2 Maccabees 7:1 – 2, 9 – 14
This Sunday, we will hear from the Second Book of Maccabees. Again, we shall see that the passage was clearly chosen to prepare us for the Gospel – they both speak of the resurrection. We haven’t heard from this book for a long time – we never hear from 1 Maccabees and we hear from 2 Maccabees only once in every 3-year cycle-this Sunday – so let’s review the “who, what, when, where and to whom” of the book. There are four books known by the title “Maccabees.” None of the four are in the Hebrew Scriptures and therefore, are not found in the Protestant Bible. On the other hand, St. Jerome included 1 and 2 Maccabees in his Latin translation of the Bible and so they became part of the Catholic canon. The Orthodox churches accept 3 Maccabees. No Christian tradition accept 4 Maccabees as being divinely inspired but some of the Eastern Christian churches include it in the appendix of their Bibles. Its emphasis on martyrdom has influenced Eastern Christian spirituality.
All four books owe their name to Judas Maccabeus, the third son of the priest Mattathias who led the Jewish revolt against the Seleucids in 167BC. The Seleucids were a Macedonian dynasty, 312–64B.C. that succeeded the Persians and ruled an empire that included much of Asia Minor, Syria, Persia, Bactria, and Babylonia. Seleucia, on the Tigris river in Iraq, was the capital of the dynasty – cf. map 10. Like the Romans after them, they required their subjects to worship their gods.
Judas’ last name is very interesting. There are those who believe that it means “hammer” (one who strikes the enemy like a hammer) or “hammer-headed (with reference to a physical defect). Most scripture scholars, however, believe that it derives from the Hebrew word “maggabyahu” which means “designated by God” (cf 1 Mc 2:66).
The books were originally written in Hebrew, but there are no versions of it extant in Hebrew. Due to the politics of later members of this family, it is not included in the Hebrew Scriptures. We learn from the text that the author was a Jew, an extreme nationalist, and apparently an ardent supporter of the Hasmoneans (a priestly family of Jewish rulers in Judea during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC). He was most likely a resident of Jerusalem, as is witnessed by his very detailed accounting of the geography of the area. Since he speaks of the Hasmonean family monument built in Modein in 143BC, 1 Maccabees must have been written after that (cf. 1 Mc 13:27 – 30). And, since he speaks so highly of the Romans (cf. 1 Mc 8), it is most likely that it was written before 63BC, the year Pompey captured Jerusalem. 2 Maccabees is an earlier composition written in Egypt by Jason of Cyrene. His work speaks of events occurring between 180 and 160BC.
Although 1 Maccabees is an historical work, its purpose is to convey a lesson. It is probably intended as a sequel to the Books of 1 + 2 Chronicles, to show that God is at work in Jewish history in the Seleucid Empire as he was in the Persian Empire. The lesson is there for every true Israelite to learn: fidelity to the Law and faith in God can achieve more than can the size of one’s army (cf. 1 Mc 2:61-64). 2 Maccabees has the same lesson and also to teach the doctrines dear to the Pharisees: e.g., the resurrection of the just (2 Mc 7:9, 14:46).
In reading 1 Mc 1:1 – 15, 20 – 24, 41 – 42, 2:1 – 29, we see the beginning of the rebellion. Throughout the two books, the various successes and failures of the religious rebellion are recounted. This Sunday’s readings present an account of one of the persecutions that resulted from this struggle. We will hear only a portion of the account on Sunday (vv. 1 – 2 and 9 – 14), but let’s read the entire account for a fuller understanding; it’s rather horrific so you can understand why we will hear only the shortened version on Sunday.
1 It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.
2 One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
3 At that the king, in a fury, gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated.
4 While they were being quickly heated, he commanded his executioners to cut out the tongue of the one who had spoken for the others, to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of his brothers and his mother looked on.
5 When he was completely maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to carry him to the fire and fry him. As a cloud of smoke spread from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying such words as these:
6 “The Lord God is looking on, and he truly has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his canticle, when he protested openly with the words, ‘And he will have pity on his servants.'”
7 When the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?”
8 Answering in the language of his forefathers, he said, “Never!” So he too in turn suffered the same tortures as the first.
9 At the point of death he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”
The King of the world will raise us up: here, and in 2 Mac 7:11, 14, 23, 29, 36, belief in the future resurrection of the body, at least for the just, is clearly stated; cf. also 2 Mac 12:44; 14:46; Daniel 12:2.
10 After him the third suffered their cruel sport. He put out his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely held out his hands,
11 as he spoke these noble words: “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.”
from him I hope to receive them again: here we see a powerful proclamation of faith in the bodily resurrection.
12 Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
13 After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way.
14 When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
but for you, there will be no resurrection to life: notice the distinction given here for those who do not believe: they are condemned to suffering eternal death.
15 They next brought forward the fifth brother and maltreated him. Looking at the king,
16 he said: “Since you have power among men, mortal though you are, do what you please. But do not think that our nation is forsaken by God.
17 Only wait, and you will see how his great power will torment you and your descendants.”
18 After him they brought the sixth brother. When he was about to die, he said: “Have no vain illusions. We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such astonishing things have happened to us.
19 Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.”
20 Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.
21 Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage, she exhorted each of them in the language of their forefathers with these words:
22 “I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed.
23 Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.”
24 Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words, thought he was being ridiculed. As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office.
25 When the youth paid no attention to him at all, the king appealed to the mother, urging her to advise her boy to save his life.
26 After he had urged her for a long time, she went through the motions of persuading her son.
27 In derision of the cruel tyrant, she leaned over close to her son and said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age.
28 I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence.
God did not make them out of existing things: that is, God made all things solely by his omnipotent will and his creative word; cf. Hb 11:3. This is the first scriptural mention of creation ex nihilo (cf. Gn 1:1).
29 Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”
30 She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our forefathers through Moses.
31 But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God.
32 We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins.
33 Though our living Lord treats us harshly for a little while to correct us with chastisements, he will again be reconciled with his servants.
34 But you, wretch, vilest of all men! do not, in your insolence, concern yourself with unfounded hopes, as you raise your hand against the children of Heaven.
35 You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty and all-seeing God.
36 My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant, but you, by the judgment of God, shall receive just punishments for your arrogance.
37 Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God.
38 Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
39 At that, the king became enraged and treated him even worse than the others, since he bitterly resented the boy’s contempt.
40 Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the Lord.
41 The mother was last to die, after her sons.
42 Enough has been said about the sacrificial meals and the excessive cruelties.
There is a clear teaching in the words of the brothers before they are executed:
- the just die rather than sin (7:2)
- God will vindicate them (7:6; Dt 32:36)
- God will raise them up (7:9)
- They will rise with bodies fully restored (7:11)
- There is no resurrection to life for the wicked (7:14)
- Instead, God will punish them (7:17)
- The death of the just has an expiatory value (7:37 – 38).
So, we see that even before the time of Christ there was developing an understanding among some of the Jews that there was life after death. This account of torture and death was intended to edify and encourage the Jews in their resistance to those Greek ways that posed a threat to Jewish faith. In telling the story of the seven brothers and their mother, the author of this book wished to present to his contemporaries with heroes that would inspire them to be similarly tenacious in their faith and courageous in the defense of their Jewish ways.
As is usually the case, this first reading leads us naturally to the gospel.
Luke 20:27 – 38
This week, we continue to hear from Luke’s Gospel. As we read in Lk 19:28, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and his tension-filled encounters with the Jewish leaders continues to escalate. We will hear a passage that relates an encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, one of the religious groups among the Jews in Jesus’ day (compare with Pharisee). Remember, the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch for their teachings about their faith, while the Pharisees accepted the doctrines found in later Jewish scriptures (e.g., angels, resurrection, final judgment, afterlife, etc.).
The encounter we will hear on Sunday is recorded also in Matthew 22:23 -33, 46 and Mark 12:18 – 27. Let’s look at them first and see especially the notes on Matthew 22:23-33. First, let’s read Dt. 25:5 – 10 to understand the background for this debate.
Luke’s unique contribution is found in vs. 36; he speaks of the faithful as “children of God, who will rise.”
27 Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to him,
Sadducees: see the note on Matthew 3:7.
28 saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’
Moses wrote for us: The Sadducees’ question, based on the law of levirate marriage recorded in Deut 25:5-10, ridicules the idea of the resurrection. Jesus rejects their naive understanding of the resurrection (Luke 20:35-36) and then argues on behalf of the resurrection of the dead on the basis of the written law (Luke 20:37-38) that the Sadducees accept.
29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless.
30 Then the second
31 and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless.
32 Finally the woman also died.
33 Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”
at the resurrection: notice the absurdity of this question. As I mentioned earlier, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection so why would they ask Jesus whose wife the woman would be? It is clear that they are merely trying to trick Jesus.
34 Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry;
The children of this age: this may be an allusion to Gn 6:1 – 4 and be intended to be contrasted with “the sons of God.”
35 but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
those who… neither marry: here we see the renunciation of marriage for the sake of Jesus (14:26, 18:29) in a more positive light – it anticipates the fullness of heavenly life. Marriage is a gift from God to provide companionship (cf. Gn 2:18, 24), bring children into the world (cf. Gn 1:28) and to offer an image of Jesus’ love for his Church (cf. Eph 5). There is no need for any of this in heaven.
36 They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
they are the children of God: this phrase, found only in Luke’s version of this encounter, confirms the original intention God has for creating us: to be his beloved children.
Because they are the ones who will rise: literally, “being sons of the resurrection.”
37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
That the dead will rise even Moses made known: Jesus uses a situation in the Pentateuch – which the Sadducees accepted for teaching – to refute them. Here, we see that God is identified as the God of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Though they had been dead for centuries, if God is truly the God of the living, then they must somehow be alive.
38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Jesus is presenting a teaching that is rather late in the Jewish tradition. We saw it in the first reading and we also see it in Daniel 12:2 (p. 1105), a book written 167 – 164BC. Jesus takes advantage of a flaw in the Sadducees’ argument (that life after death is simply a continuation of life in the present age) to offer some much needed clarification. Those who are raised to new life in God live as a totally new creation – like angels – and so there is no need for marriage. As we approach the end of the liturgical year – the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, the Feast of Christ the King, is just two weeks away – we do well to reflect on and prepare for the coming of the Lord who comes to lead his faithful back into the heavenly embrace of God, our eternal Father.
2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5
We hear again from the second letter to the Thessalonians. As you will read in your footnote, it is part of the final chapter where we hear Paul urge the Thessalonians to pray for him and his colleagues (2 Thes 3:1-2) and reiterate confidence in the Thessalonians (2 Thes 3:3-5), while – as we shall see next week – admonishing them about a specific problem in their community that has grown out of the intense eschatological speculation, namely, not to work but to become instead disorderly busybodies (2 Thes 3:6-15). A benediction (2 Thes 3:16) and postscript in Paul’s own hand round out the letter. On 2 Thes 3:17-18, cf the note on 2 Thes 2:2.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace,
17 encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.
1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, as it did among you,
2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.
3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
4 We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you (both) are doing and will continue to do.
5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.