Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Ps 17 (in Mass: Ps 34);2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5;
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Why do we so seldom talk about the bodily resurrection? Do we consider it too difficult for “outsiders” to believe, thus accepting an Enlightenment prejudice that nothing empirically unknown can happen to nature? Or do we think there are other parts of the Christian faith that are more important? With today’s readings, the Church however reminds us that the belief in the bodily resurrection is the very centre of our faith.
The first reading was taken from Second Maccabees; a Biblical book that, together with its first part, presents a thrilling story, in many ways directly speaking to contemporary time and struggles of the true faithful in both Church and culture. As we heard, the hope for resurrection was there, in the middle of the Jewish, Old covenant, faith.
Almost two hundred years later, in Jesus’s time, the Sadducees, the religious party of the Jerusalem temple aristocracy, emerged as powerful deniers of the bodily resurrection. They rejected tradition, the deposit of faith, as the key to understand Holy scriptures. With the aim to protect their own social status, they were eager not to let the teaching of faith challenge ideas and world views of the secular powers, then the Roman occupants. A pattern unfortunately occurring every so often also throughout the Christian history.
In the gospel we heard Jesus strongly rebuked the Sadducees and their understanding, and instead unveiled the true meaning of the Scriptures. A rebuke, one must say, elegantly finalized by his own upcoming resurrection from the dead.
The core of the Christian gospel, in Greek “euangelion” or “good news about a king’s victory”, is that God, Existence itself, the uncaused cause, entered his creation and became man in Jesus Christ in order to draw it out of its self-imposed destructivity. By sharing humanity’s worse humiliation, death, he opened a way beyond it for all who believe: resurrection from the dead. Just like for the risen Lord: in the body, but restored and glorified; material but not defective, fully permeated by God’s reality.
This, and nothing else, is the gospel. If Jesus Christ hasn’t risen, we are totally pathetic as the Apostle Paul has expressed it. Nothing else of what we Christians have, do or say – doctrines, liturgy, charity works, morals, justice etc. – then matters at all.
Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed who is his mission, did not come to establish any political, social, economic or ecological order, however temporarily important such things may be. No, he came to establish God’s kingdom through his life and sacrifice on the cross. A kingdom in which we, thanks to all that is unchanging teaching along with the seven sacraments of his Church, already here and now can be partakers of. A kingdom, which will be fulfilled by God also raising us in our bodies, glorified and immortal, on the last day.
Jesus also did not come to tell us to be nice. Goodness and kindness are natural human faculties, as well as important implications of God’s law and the gospel. But the “inexhaustible comfort” and “sure hope”, of which our second reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians talks, is something much more profound than what normal niceness or any other human action – political, social or economical – can provide; it is protection “from the evil one” and life eternal.
Therefore, sisters and brothers, if you as Christian proclamation hear a message that you as well could hear on political meetings, to the left and the right, or in talk shows on TV, you can at least be sure of one thing: you have not heard the gospel!
Meeting the fulfilled life, fully permeated by God’s glory, in the risen Christ, changed everything for the apostles. It was this reality, not a symbol or an idea, that moved them to risk and finally lose their lives, in order to tell as many as they could about it. And fully embracing the hope of this reality, not a symbol or an idea, martyrs at all times have met their fate, with the assurance of today’s responsorial psalm, that the Lord delivers “me from all my fears”. An assurance we will soon receive into our physical beings, through the Holy Eucharist, enabling divine, self-giving love to live within, and thus through, us.
When we no longer fear death as the ultimate end, we also can do what Jesus did and taught: love our neighbour, both known and unknown, i.e. wanting his or her best and giving ourselves for that, without counting costs or returns. Fear of death in the sense of personal extinction is a root cause to sin, pushing us to feed the ego with everything we can grasp – life is short! – turning us towards ourselves. By removing the basis for this fear, the promise of resurrection gives true goodness its solid foundation.
Let me conclude with three examples of how we in our everyday lives better can live as the “children of the resurrection”, of which Jesus talks.
First: prepare your bodily resurrection by a frequent use of the Sacrament of reconciliation. We interact with the world through our bodies, why we also sin in and through our bodies. Use therefore the tools Christ has given us to increasingly become temples of the Holy Spirit. As often as you need. And if you come back with the same sins, don’t worry. The grace of confession requires and strengthens our determination not to sin. But if we fall again we have to be forgiven again. It is as simply as your regular cleaning of your home: you clean the same corners and surfaces every time because dust and dirt keep collecting on the same spots. And so it also can be with sin: its dust and dirt can keep collecting in the same corners of the soul, why Jesus needs to clean again. God never gets tired of forgiving you. Nor should you ever get tired to ask.
Secondly: make “resurrection revisions” of your relationships; in your family, at work, with friends. Are they lived out without fear to let go of your ego? Or is it more important for you to get or have right, than to do the right thing? What do you need to change to make room for more of the self-giving love, enabled by our Christian hope?
And thirdly: become a public witness of this hope for eternal life. E.g. by something as simple as wearing a visible cross; or a crucifix, which more profoundly depicts God’s mercy, turning an ancient tool of fear and death into a sign of timeless hope.
Dear sisters and brothers, never forget this: we do not believe in Jesus Christ because he was a nice person. We ourselves want to become truly good persons because we believe in Jesus Christ; in him, whom God raised from the dead. Amen.