6th November 2016
The first reading is from the second book called Maccabees named after Judas Maccabeus and written during the second century BC. It begins with letters to the Jews in Egypt, followed by a preface stating that this is a summary of a five volume work written about the experiences of the Jews in Egypt under foreign rulers. The Jews stood out with their distinctive religion and its practices, so the pagan rulers tried to force them to conform to their pagan rituals and diet (especially eating pork). The chapter we read from, relates the martyrdom of seven sons and their mother, but our reading (to avoid too horrific material perhaps) only tells us of three of them. The passage is of interest because of what it shows of the belief these Jews had at that time. They clearly believed in there being only one God, but also, and as a new idea, God’s creating everything out of nothing; also they believed in heaven as a reward for the righteous – who obeyed the Law – and that their suffering in this life would make up for their many faults. And this is a development of Jewish thinking that also shows up at the time and in the place where Jesus grew up and lived. The expectation of an afterlife with God appears also in the response to the Psalm that follows the reading. But calling someone an accursed wretch is not really appropriate.
We read from the ending of a Letter from Paul to the Thessalonians. About the year 50 AD (when the Emperor Claudius banished Jews from Rome), Paul, together with Silvanus and Timothy went to Thessalonica to preach about Jesus; that is the Timothy to whom letters were addressed which are in the New Testament. The Jews there were not interested and so they preached to ‘God-fearing’ non-Jews, and were welcomed into the house of one called Jason. But because of trouble from the Jews these first missionaries had to leave. Later Timothy had revisited the Thessalonian converts but they were still troubled by the Jews. However, Paul had heard that they thought the End of the world was coming (after all the troubles they were in) and some had even given up on caring about this life, and this prompted him to write this second letter to them from which we read today, though in our extract he is just encouraging them to follow what he previously taught them.
In today’s gospel the Sadducees try to make fun of the belief in life after death. They don’t have this belief and they only recognise the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) as sacred scripture. They argue from the rule in Deuteronomy that if a married brother dies, his brother must marry the wife so as to produce an heir for the dead brother. Jesus, like the Pharisees, believes in the afterlife and the reward of the just. In the reply He contrasts this life with the risen life in which the higher state of immortality marriage does not apply for all are children of God and inheritance of this life is gained for them; Luke elaborates this reply more than Matthew and Mark who have the same story.