32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend, observed by the Church as the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, has as its first reading a section from the Second Book of Maccabees.
Maccabees, First or Second, rarely appears as a reading at Mass. These books are late in the formation of the Scriptures as we now have them. They date from a period only two centuries before Christ, describing a very dark period in the history of God’s people.
When Alexander the Great, who had conquered so much of the present-day Middle East died, his generals scrambled to succeed him. One of them, Ptolomy, became the pharaoh of Egypt. Another of them, Seleucus, became king of Syria.
A successor of Seleucus, Antiochus IV, believed himself to be divine. He demanded that his subjects, including the Jews, worship him. Anyone who refused this demand paid dearly. This weekend’s reading reports quite vividly the penalty Antiochus IV reserved for those who denied that he was a god.
Maccabees I and II were written about martyrs who defied Antiochus.
These two books of Maccabees lionize these pious Jewish martyrs who refused to forsake the one God of Israel.
Heroism, therefore, is one lesson. Another is about the after-life, and it mentions the after-life as a reward for holy living on earth. The after-life as a doctrine was not very refined in the more ancient Hebrew writings. Maccabees expanded the notion.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians provides the second reading. This work too was written when times were very hard for true believers. The epistle is challenging but encouraging. Regardless of whatever may lie ahead, it insists that disciples must hold firm to their bond with the Lord. Times may be bad, even terrifying, but God will be victorious!
St. Luke’s Gospel, the source of the last reading, continues the theme of the after-life. Its message is clear. Those faithful to God in this life will live with God, triumphantly and eternally, in the next life.
This reading also says that the ways of God are beyond our experience and our understanding. We are humans, nothing less but nothing more. We are nothing less in that we can decide to live so as to receive as God’s gift eternal life itself. We are nothing more in that we need God.
Tomorrow, our country will celebrate Veterans’ Day, a commemoration of the day in 1918 when Germany and its allies surrendered, and the First World War ended.
No war has been fought without great suffering and death. The First World War, however, was new to human experience in the untold number of human lives that it took. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives on battlefields, or in bombing raids. Millions of others starved, or were maimed, or died of disease.
Today, historians look back upon this tragic time and wonder why it all happened. It happened because of human bad judgment, human greed and human disregard for human life. Humans can make life very bad for themselves and for others especially when they ignore or disobey God.
Evidence of this same reality is seen in the story of the Maccabees. The mighty Antiochus brought death and anguish. In the end, however, the just triumphed, not the king. We celebrate the Maccabees. For the Thessalonians, imperial Rome brought terror and agony. The just triumphed. We honor them today. Imperial Rome is gone.
These readings remind us again that peace, justice and security come only when humans respect God. They also warn us of the allurements that so often drive humans to hurt themselves and others inevitably will pass away.
Without God, we are doomed, condemned by our own human inadequacies. Again and again in history, we find proof of this fact.
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