This reflection refers to the readings for Sunday, November 10, 2013. For last week’s reflection, click here.
As the world outside grows cold and dark and dies, the Church’s liturgical year comes to a close by calling us to think about the end of this world, and the beginning of the next. The theme of the end of the world marks the end of the liturgical year, two weeks from this Sunday, as well as the end of Jesus’s preaching in the Gospels, and is also one of the themes of the beginning of the new year with Advent. But at the end of Advent, in the bleak midwinter, when half-spent is the night, comes the rebirth of Christmas. So too it is in the passing away of this age that we find the rebirth of the world in love.
This Sunday’s first reading, from Second Maccabees, puts a fine point on it with the theme of martyrdom. The third brother “suffered their cruel sport. He put out his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely held out his hands, 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.”
The paradox is beautiful. This is real contempt for the world: a willingness to die, to have his tongue and hands chopped off. But the source of this contempt is in the love of God. God, compared to whom everything else seems like rubbish. But for the Maccabbean brothers, it isn’t rubbish. They are willing to lose their hands precisely because they know they are gifts from God.
With the Creator, all the logic gets turned inside out – because he is the source of every good gift. To lose everything for God is to regain it all again. With God, contempt for the world turns into love for the world.
So too the first brother says, “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” Love of ancestors is a powerful kind of love for this world. A love so great it is worth dying for.
Jesus takes us deeper into both themes in the Gospel. Taking up the theme of love of ancestors, Jesus says that Moses was discovering the God of his ancestors, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses rediscovers his ancestors – rediscovers his own history, his own nationality, his own family – by finding them in the one who transcends history: “for to him all are alive.” We more truly discover this world when we find it in God.
Perhaps this is the way to look at Jesus’s encounter with the Sadducees, in the first part of Sunday’s Gospel. On the one hand, this is just a trick. The Sadducees were trying to show that the very idea of a resurrection is ridiculous. On one level, Jesus is just showing them that they are ridiculous, because they are thinking about heaven in a too materialistic way.
But on another level, Jesus is taking up again the theme of rediscovering earth in heaven. The Sadducees had tried to trick him by talking about marriage: “at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?” Jesus responds that in heaven there is no more marriage – but his answer is profound.
“They can no longer die . . . and they are the children of God.” What is marriage? Among other things, it is the passage from one generation to another: we leave behind our parents, and become parents ourselves. (That’s how the Sadducees talked about it – and it is a beautiful Biblical insight.) But heaven is the place where generations no longer pass by: where we are all the children of God’s one family. The old way of family is lost – because it is discovered more profoundly. The love of this world passes away – only to be found more abundantly.
How do we live this here and now? By relying totally on God, and living totally for God.
The reading from St. Paul reflects a kind of contempt for this world: “that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.” He asks that God might “guard you from the evil one.” When it comes to this world, Paul is no romantic.
And yet that allows him to give his life for this world: “that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified.” He is not checked out. No, because he believes in God, he can pour out his life for this world.
How do you express contempt for this world? And how does that help you rediscover the goodness of this world?