God always keeps His promises

  • November 2, 2007
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Nov. 11 (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38)

Sometimes suffering and negative experiences can lead us into a deeper understanding of ourselves and of God. Such was the case with the people of Israel during their persecution at the hands of the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century BC.

This despotic ruler attempted to wipe out Jewish culture and religion. Observance of circumcision, dietary laws and the Sabbath was forbidden. The Temple was profaned with a statue of the Greek god Zeus and a pig was sacrificed on the altar. And now the people were being forced to violate their ancestral law by eating forbidden food. Many did — death can be very persuasive — but many were willing to accept torture and death rather than betray their faith.

It is important to know that in the earlier stages of Israel’s history, a clear notion of the afterlife was lacking. One lived on through one’s descendants, hence the emphasis on being blessed with many children. The sojourn in Babylon gave them many new ideas, especially those associated with the world of the spirit. And now the suffering and death of those faithful to God provided the final element in the development of an understanding of the resurrection. If the wicked and faithless prosper while the faithful and just suffer and die, what is the point of anything? But the resurrection was the great equalizer: the risen would receive whatever they had earned. God’s promise of blessings for the just and faithful was vindicated.

It is obvious from the passage that at this stage they had a very literal and biological understanding of the resurrection. Passages from the Gospels and Paul give us a more spiritualized view of the resurrected body. But the essential point remains: what goes around comes around. The just and faithful are not naïve and foolish for being so, and the wicked and unjust have not gotten away with a thing. We live in a just universe created by a just God who plays no favourites and always keeps His promises.

This is the point hammered home in Second Thessalonians: the Lord is faithful. The prayer is to be rescued from the machinations of evil people, but as we all know, sometimes this does not happen. But strengthen us and protect us from being overwhelmed God certainly will. The key is steadfastness; it was central to the life of Jesus and it should be in ours. We cannot control what goes on around us, but we can remain steadfast in mind and heart.

The Sadducees think they now have Jesus cornered, and they attempt by their bizarre question to demonstrate the absurdity of the resurrection, in which they do not believe. Instead, Jesus demonstrates the superficiality and inadequacy of their question. They rightly see that an afterlife that is merely a carbon copy of our earthly life is rather ridiculous. But they are in need of a complete “paradigm shift”; that is, a change in their model of God and the universe. The afterlife is a much higher plane of existence. Marriage and the physicality of the body are things appropriate to the Earth but not life in the age to come. And what is more, to say that God is the god of the living is a theologically loaded statement. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are truly alive — alive in a way that we are not — for they are with God. God is life itself without darkness, violence, death or suffering, and as the author of life God has no interest in death or destruction.

A failure to remember this and a tendency to think of God using earthly categories is the source of so much misunderstanding and conflict. Our collective sacred imagination has been transformed and refreshed many times in our journey from Abraham’s call to the 21st century, and there is no reason to think that this will not continue for God’s self-revelation is never exhausted. We fool ourselves if we think that we can define or contain God in words or doctrinal formulae. Only fear, closed-mindedness and a lack of imagination can hinder our experience or understanding of God and the world to come. We have been promised the status of God’s children and all that implies — let us not settle for less.