Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as this Sunday marks the occasion of being two Sundays away from the Solemnity of Christ the King, which marks the end of our current liturgical year, if we noticed, many of the Scripture readings have been taken from the passages of the Scripture referring to the end of times, such as from the Book of the Revelations of St. John the Apostle, as well as references to the life in the world that is to come, including what we have heard today, as the resurrection from the dead is a central theme of our faith.
By His death and resurrection, Jesus our Lord have made us all who share in His death and resurrection, to have the hope of eternal life, as when He descended into this world to save us, He shared in our humanity and became Man just like us. Through His death on the cross, not only that He had shouldered the burden of our sins, but He also shared with us His suffering and death, that we are also dead to our past lives of sin.
Then, by His glorious resurrection, He lifted us all up together with Him into a new life. Had the resurrection of the dead been false or absent, then our faith the Lord would have been wasted and useless, meaningless and we would have no hope. But we believe in this, and by our faith, we know that at the end of our earthly lives, in fact it is not the end of everything, but the beginning of a new, blessed life with God and with our righteous brethren, which we shall enjoy for eternity. This is our faith and what we believe in.
In the Gospel today, Jesus our Lord spoke to a group of Sadducees who questioned Him about the matter of the resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees were one of the two major power and influential groups at the time. They were those who were influential, rich and powerful, close to the rulers and the kings at that time, the educated and intellectual class, opposed to the Pharisees, the other major group, who were also influential, but of different sort, since the Pharisees dealt more with matters of the Jewish faith and customs.
And thus, as opposed to the Pharisees’ extra-zealous observation and imposition of the tenets of the Jewish laws and customs, which the Lord Jesus had frequently condemned throughout the Gospels, the Sadducees on the other hand were very secular, and did not believe in supernatural matters such as Angels, spirits, and of course, the resurrection of the dead. They rejected all these, thinking that there is nothing after death.
They were indeed those who lived for the moment, enjoying the worldly pleasures and goodness, as they did not believe that there is resurrection after death, and they presumably would fear death, as death was therefore seen as a horrible end to the worldly life, from which there is nothing. They thought of the world, and therefore followed the ways of this world.
And because they treasured life more than anything else, they would do whatever it is that can please the demands of the world, even if that means opposing the works of God as they have done against Jesus. For Jesus came and rebuked them as well for their stubbornness and refusal to believe in the truth about the resurrection of the dead. They argued using the example of the seven brothers and their wife to push their argument about the impossibility of the resurrection.
In the two readings we heard, one from the Book of the Maccabees and then the Gospel, we can see the relation and the contrast between the two readings about this matter of the resurrection. The Sadducees were thinking in worldly terms, worrying about what would happen after the death of man, whether they would be able to carry on with their earthly life in the same manner as how they have lived it. This is evident as they asked Jesus what then would happen to the wife shared by the seven brothers.
Meanwhile, the seven brothers in the Book of Maccabeus faithfully upheld their faith in the Lord without fail, even when they were faced with great suffering, torture and certain death if they rejected the advances and offers from the king. As a little background explanation of what happened then, the Greek King of the Seleucids, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes ruled over the region of Judea, where the Jews then lived under his rule. At that time, that king was trying to enforce the Greek customs and ways to the Jews, including pagan worship and also the obliteration of the Jewish laws.
The king made many people to choose between obeying his commands and thus betraying the Lord, or to stand fast to their faith and suffer grievous consequences, even death. If they valued their lives more than their faith, then surely they would choose the side of the king, for after all, if they rejected the king’s orders, there was to be no hope for them, but death.
Yet, because they knew that there is indeed life beyond death, due to the promise of the resurrection of the dead, they did not fear the king and his threats, and even in the face of great tribulations, torture and persecution, they stood fast to their faith, to the very last brother, and the mother who witnessed it all, proud that all of her sons had acted in the way they did.
The king offered them high positions in his court, guarantees of success and wealth if they only would abandon their faith in the Lord, and their lives would have been prosperous and good. But at what cost? Jesus our Lord Himself said in one occasion, about how foolish it is for someone to gain the whole world but at the cost of losing one’s soul. It would have been better for someone to preserve his soul even though he suffers in this world.
Why is this so, brethren? That is because whatever we have in this world is transient and temporary in nature. All the things we obtain now in this world will not last forever. They are means for us to have a sustainable life, for us to survive in this world, and yet we should not let them to take over us with desires, untoward greed and unbridled wants, which then lead us into the temptations of this world, that eventually will lead us into sin.
The choice facing the seven brothers was clear, either to sin and live comfortably in this world, or to remain pure and holy although they might suffer in their earthly bodies and perish. Yet, God Who is the Lord and Master of life will bless them and grant them a new life, one that will never end, filled with true joy and happiness of having been reunited with God. Those who sided with the king and threw away their dedication to the Lord will indeed also have a new life, but instead of what the faithful received, they will receive the eternity of damnation and punishment.
The same faced the martyrs and all those who have been persecuted in the early days of the Church, when the Roman authorities, and in some cases, the Persian Sassanid authorities oppressed the Christian faith, and forced many of the faithful to choose between life or death. For those who did not understand and appreciate how important is the resurrection is for us, they would have thought that it was foolish for the faithful to choose death over life, if that would mean that they could keep their faith in God.
But that was exactly what happened then. There were indeed those who were unable to resist the temptation and abandoned their faith, but there were still many more who stood fast to their belief in the Risen Lord, and faced great sufferings and persecutions, and yet, at the end of the day, when the Lord comes to reward His faithful ones, they indeed deserve to receive great rewards from Him.
And persecution of the Church and the faithful ran throughout time and ages, even until this very day. I am sure that we are all quite aware of the challenges facing the Church and the faithful in several if not many areas in the world today. There were many opponents and enemies of the Lord and His Church, who ridiculed us for our faith, who despised us and attacked us, who made our lives very difficult and riddled with obstacles. But then, brothers and sisters in Christ, do we then give in to the demands of the world?
It does not mean that we should seek violence or revenge, for after all, Jesus Himself taught us to pray for our enemies and forgive those who have hurt or injured us. But it means that we should not be lukewarm in our faith, but instead be truly devoted in our words, actions and deeds, so that all those who see us may know that we truly believe in God, the Living God.
And in doing so, we are building for ourselves the true wealth and treasure found only in our God. We should not be obsessed with what is present in this world, but instead make use of what we have, especially if we have more of them, to help the needy, to alleviate the suffering of those who are lacking in certain areas, such as food, clothing, and even love.
If we remain faithful to the Lord, keep our faith strongly firm in Him, and doing whatever is right and just in His eyes, even though those whom we know and even those who are close to us may disapprove, then just like the seven brothers martyred in what we heard from the Book of the Maccabees, rich will be our reward in the world that is to come.
It is easy for us to fall into the temptation, and indeed, it is easy for us to become like the Sadducees as described in the Gospel today. Many of us have doubts in our lives, and indeed our faith are often far from perfect. Many have abandoned the faith because they do not have the love of God in their hearts, and because their faith were weak. It is a lot easier for us to just succumb to the temptations of this world and do things as it expects us to do, but remember, that if we live for the moment and do what the Lord abhors, we are inviting for ourselves an eternity of damnation.
Therefore, let us all in the Church, all members of the same Body of Christ, help one another to be closer to God, and put our hope in Him, Who have given us this life, and Who have sent His own Son into this world to die for our sins, and by sharing in our humanity, He has therefore shared with us His death, that we all die to our past sins and wickedness, and then as He rose from the dead in glory, we too may rise in glory with Him, and keeping our faith in Him strong and alive, we may receive the true joy and the crown of everlasting glory in the end of it all.
Let us pray, brothers and sisters in Christ, for the sake of our persecuted brethren throughout the world, in areas where it is very dangerous to live as Christians, and yet there are still those who proudly and openly carried themselves and proclaimed themselves as Christians. And let us all be thankful if we have had a good life, and pray that we may be ever more moved to do more for the sake of our suffering brethren, giving them support be it in material or in love and attention.
May the Lord, the Master and the Giver of life bless us all, and may He Who have conquered death dispel the doubts in our hearts, that we have no more of the doubt of the Sadducees, but instead, put our full and complete trust in our Risen Lord, Who is our hope and our aim in life. God be with us all. Amen.