Reflection on the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
That first reading needs to be finished. The fifth and sixth sons refuse to eat pork and are tortured and killed. Then the mother is threatened with torture if she doesn’t’ convince her youngest to eat pork. Of course, she counsels him to stand firm. So he’s killed and then she’s killed. And then another Maccabee comes to town, lays waste the enemy and purifies the temple. That’s essentially the end of the last book of the Hebrew testament, celebrated in the feast of Hanukkah. The feast of lights. It seems like a stretch. A long dark couple of chapters, culminating in the lighting of candles and the giving of sweets and toys.
The Gospel has an interpretation that Ann Manganaro used to tell. As she saw it, the reading proves that Jesus had a sense of humor. He listened to the Sadducees and replied “You don’t understand. In heaven there won’t be marriage. We’ll all be like angels” as if that answered anything at all, as if, of course, we all knew what angels are and could immediately figure out what life after death would be.
I think of Ann sometimes, laughing at the thought that us becoming angels was any sort of explanation. No, becoming angels is not an answer. But angels are an invitation to think bigger. To imagine a loss of self in the glory of God. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is the God of the living. That’s the promise. And it’s the promise to the Maccabees, too. But the how of it – we don’t know. The invitation Is to mysticism: Consider facing death. Consider becoming angels. Consider the experience of love that hurts our hearts, the experience of loss that empties our hearts. We know faith and hope and charity in small ways. These stories about the suffering of a mother and her sons and Jesus being questioned by the Sadducees offer bigger moments when we can enlarge our vision of the universe.
Maccabees is a horrible story of cruelty, but at the center is a bright, clear vision of the importance of keeping faith that calls for us to light all the candles and give presents. The Sadducees questioning Jesus reeks of cynicism, but in response, Jesus offers a vision. I wanted to skip both the story of the king’s cruelty and the story of the Sadducees’ cynicism. But I had to sit with them to write this homily, and I came to see that they are invitations to contemplate mystery, and my words only can point out the possibilities.
So, to find language, I retreat to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, full of the common-sense reminder that God has always loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope.