WHY AFRAID OF DEATH IF WE BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION?
HOMILY FOR THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: 2Maccabees 7:1-2.9-14; Psalm 17; 2Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38.
There are different beliefs and cultures of life after death. Around the world, a good number of the dead are buried while some are cremated; but one tribe in the jungles of the Amazon eats their dead. It is the Yanomami tribe, located between Brazil and Venezuela. Salvation after death is important to this tribe, and this can only be achieved if they follow this ritual whereby everyone present at the funeral eat/drink of the body of the dead that has been cremated and the ashes mixed with soup, which is taboo to us. What could be their reason/belief for this practice and what does it have to do with our liturgy for today?
In Yanomami tribe, this ritual is customary; however, to us it is considered endocannibalism (the practice of eating a human from the same community, tribe, and social group usually after they have died). By their participation in the meal during funeral, the Yanomames believe the dead is alive among the living, which is in a way similar to the belief of re-incarnation and our belief of life after death but never the same. Today’s liturgy presents to us the sure hope of life after death and the resurrection of the dead for those who believe in Christ.
The first reading presents to us the story of seven brothers and their mother who were killed on account of their faithfulness to the laws of their forefathers. The reading reveals the first solemn statement in the Bible of life after death. These brothers believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day that is why they were courageous enough to pass through torture and finally gave up their earthly life. It is a show of admirable courage of these brothers despite the persecution, the first said, “For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers” (2 Mac. 7:2). The second said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (v.9). Despite the cruelty of their persecutors, the third brother gives us hope of the resurrection, to get all back again from him that has given life to us, and the fourth hits the nail of the head saying, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him” (v.14). These brothers faced and accepted persecution because of their belief of life after death.
The reading teaches us the importance of fidelity and faithfulness to God, not to compromise our faith in God, be it for power, authority, fame, money, position or promotion. No matter how cruel the world or our Nation may treat us, we can always rejoice as people of hope in the resurrection. Hope sustains and urges us to live on no matter how tough life could be. It urges us never to be afraid of persecution, hardship or even death. It keeps us going that one day our lives will be better and “we shall see God face to face” (Rev. 22:4).
In the gospel, Christ enlightened the Sadducees who came with questions on the resurrection, presenting the story of seven brothers who married to a woman at different intervals; in the resurrection they ask, whose wife will the woman be? We have two major groups as opponent of Jesus: the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees are group of people who do not believe in the resurrection because it is not found in the Torah. They accept the Torah as authoritative scripture, giving the writings of the prophets a lower place in their system and rejecting oral tradition altogether. Scholars have argued that the Sadducees do not belief in angels/spirit, but angels are found in the Torah (Gen 16:7; 21:17). The Pharisees are more religious and less political. They accept both Torah and Prophets as authoritative scripture, and rely heavily on oral tradition to understand scripture. They believe in the resurrection, a concept not fully developed in the Old Testament, and not mentioned in the Torah.
In Acts 23:1-11 we have the hot argument between the Sadducees and the Pharisees on the resurrection, of which they wanted to tear Paul apart because he bore witness to the resurrection of Christ (Paul’s Kerigma). The same applied to Peter after Christ’s resurrection, before the Sanhedrin he said, “We and the Holy Spirit are witnesses to this truth, the crucified Christ died and resurrect” (Acts 2:23). These were men ready to give up their lives for the faith they have in the resurrection.
Today, we are being challenged for our faith as we first; recall the seven brothers being killed on account of their faith by refusing to eat swine. Still in this vein, we recall Susana in Daniel 13, who said no to the sin of adultery because of her faith and belief. In view of these, the readings encourages us never to compromise our faith for anything or any favour. Not even for admission or sexual affairs for grade in school, never to compromise our faith for promotion at our places of work, even if it will cost us our lives. Christ never compromised his teachings. We are Christians and must be like Christ. The truth of our life is: if we remain faithful to God, we will be denied some worldly privileges, benefits and opportunities, but will certainly receive God’s rewards at the resurrection of the dead. As St. Paul affirms in the second reading, God is always faithful to his words; if we are faithful to him he will strengthen and guard us from evil.
God bless you!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ