Sunday, November 11, 2007

1st Reading for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

From: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14

Martyrdom of the Seven Brothers and their Mother

[1] It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh. [2] One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, "What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers." [9] And when he was at his last breath, he 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."

[10] After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, [11] and said nobly, "I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again." [12] As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man's spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing. [13] When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. [14] And when he was near death, he said, "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. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!"

7:1-42. This is one of the most famous and popular passages in the history of the Maccahees--so much so that traditionally (but improperly) these brothers are usually referred to as "the Maccabees". The sacred writer does not tell us the boys' names, or where it all happened; and he brings in the presence of the king to heighten the dramatic effect. The bravery of these young men, it would seem, was inspired by the good example given by Eleazar (cf. 6:28). The mother's intervention divides the scene into two parts--first the martyrdom of the six older brothers (vv. 2-19), and then that of the youngest and the mother herself (vv. 20-41).

In the first part the conviction that the just will rise and evildoers will be punished builds up as the story goes on. Each of the replies given by the six brothers contains some aspect of truth. The first says that just men prefer to die rather than sin (v. 2) because God will reward them (v. 6); the second, that God will raise them to a new life (v. 9); the third, that they will rise with their bodies remade (v. 11); the fourth, that for evildoers there will be no “resurrection to life” (v. 14); the fifth, that there will be punishment for evildoers (v. 17); and the sixth, that when just people suffer it is because they are being punished for their own sins (v. 18).

In the second part, both the mother and the youngest brother affirm what the others have said: but the boy adds something new when he says that death accepted by the righteous works as atonement for the whole people (vv. 37­38).

The resurrection of the dead, which "God revealed to his people progressively" ("Catechism of the Church", 992), is a teaching that is grounded first on Moses' words about God having compassion on his servants (v. 6; cf. Deut 32:36), and the idea that if they die prematurely they will receive consolation in the next life. This is the point being made by the first brother, and it implies that God "faithfully maintains his covenant with Abraham and his posterity" (ibid.). As the mother sees it (vv. 27-28), belief in the resurrection comes from "faith in God as creator of the whole man, body and soul" (ibid., 992). Our Lord Jesus Christ ratifies this teaching and links it to faith in himself (cf. Jn 5:24-25; 11:25); and he also purifies the Pharisees' notion of the resurrection, which was an interpretation based only on material terms (cf. Mk 12:18-27; 1 Cor 15:35-53).

In what the mother says (v. 28) we can also see belief in the creation of the world out of nothing "as a truth full of promise and hope" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church", 297). On the basis of this passage and some New Testament passages, such as John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3, the Church has formulated its doctrine of creation: "We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create (cf. Vatican I: DS 3022), nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance (cf. Vatican I: DS 3023-3024). God creates freely 'out of nothing' (DS 800; 3025). If God had drawn the world from pre-existent matter, what would be so extraordinary in that? A human artisan makes from a given material whatever he wants, while God shows his power by starting from nothing to make all he wants" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church", 296).

The assertion that the death of martyrs has expiatory value (vv. 37-38) prepares us to grasp the redemptive meaning of Christ's death; but we should remember that Christ, by his death, not only deflected the punishment that all men deserve on account of sin, but also, through his grace, makes sinful men righteous in God's sight (cf. Rom 3:21-26).

Many Fathers of the Church, notably St Gregory Nazianzen ("Orationes", 15, 22), St Ambrose ("De Iacob et Vitae Beata", 2, 10, 44-57), St Augustine ("In Epistolam Ioannis", 8, 7), and St Cyprian ("Ad Fortunatus", 11) heaped praise on these seven brothers and their mother. St John Chrysostom invites us to imitate them whenever temptation strikes: "All the moderation that they show in the midst of dangers we, too, should imitate by the patience and temperance with which we deal with irrational concupiscence, anger, greed for possessions, bodily passions, vainglory and such like. For if we manage to control their flame, as (the Maccabees) did the flame of the fire, we will be able to be near them and have a share in their confidence and freedom of spirit" ('Homiliae in Maccabaeos", 1,3).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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