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32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov.

7, 2010
(2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Lk. 20:27-38)

A clear statement of belief in a resurrection from the dead in the Old

Testament comes in this passage from 2 Maccabees, a work which Catholics
consider an inspired part of the Sacred Scriptures as defined at the Council of Trent
in 1546. Protestants consider the book to be “apocryphal”, meaning they
acknowledge its antiquity but not its divine inspiration.
There are very few direct references to resurrection in the Old Testament.
Scholars indicate it was an idea which emerged only very late in the Old Testament.
It was certainly an idea that Pharisees believed in, which means that although Jesus
disputed many things with Pharisees, resurrection was not one of them. The
Sadducees (the priestly class) completely rejected any belief in resurrection.
In Sunday’s reading one of the unnamed woman’s seven sons, uttered his final
words regarding the idea of being raised as a reward for remaining faithful to the
laws of Judaism. Because he and his mother and brothers refuse to adopt the ways
of their oppressors in violation of religious law they died as martyrs in the sure hope
that they would be raised.
Written some time near the book of Daniel (about 150 BC), both works regard
resurrection as a reward for being righteous (compare Daniel 12). Both seem to
envision a state of nothingness for the unrighteous (“an everlasting horror and
disgrace” in Daniel’s words). Nothing clearly emerges as a “doctrine” as such in the
Old Testament period, so we can hardly speak of a smooth transition on
resurrection from Old Testament to New Testament.
In the gospel, Sadducees (“those who deny that there is a resurrection”) are
the questioners. The Sadducees represented the Temple establishment and emerged
from the priestly class. They question Jesus, citing Scripture, as people often do, in
order to set off a religious argument. Thus: “Moses wrote,” referring to
Deuteronomy 25:5 about a brother’s responsibility to raise up offspring for a
widowed sister-in-law. They then present the theoretical case of seven brothers all
marrying the same woman trying to “raise up descendants.” In such a case, whose
wife will she be at the resurrection?
Even though it is asked by evident adversaries of Jesus, it is a reasonable
question. Certainly people in every age worry about the ones they have loved who
precede them in death. We all wonder about what a reunion in the resurrection will
be like...especially when grief begins to lose its grip and our pain of loss allows
more sober reflection. Separation from loved ones in death leads to union with Love
itself in the resurrection.
Jesus rejects such limited ways of reflecting on so all-encompassing a reality
as the resurrection. In fact the idea of a kind of post death reunion gives way to the
idea of entering into the fullness of the living God. Jesus cites Exodus 3 in the
passage about the burning bush. There God said I am the God of
Abraham...Isaac....and Jacob, all of whom had died long before Moses. Yet Moses
acknowledges God as Lord and God of the living since God is a God of life. If God
IS the God of the ancestors then they must be alive in some way.
Thus, Jesus rejects the Sadducees’ simplistic understanding of resurrection.
To enjoy the resurrection is to enjoy the eternal presence of the living God without
the limitations of earthly life or life’s institutions (even marriage). Since those who
rise from the dead will never die again, institutions like marriage, which sustain life,
become unnecessary. Living in the presence of the fullness of God is simply
different than we could ever imagine. And for that, thanks be to God!

Fr. Lawrence L. Hummer