Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How we treat death reflects on how we treat life.

November 11, 2007
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

Our readings this morning are more than a bit tough. We have our reading from the book of Second Maccabees and Maccabees only comes around once every three years on Sunday and it is a doozy! We have a very gruesome reading and this portion of Scripture has been cut down. The full text is very graphic. So why is it in our Sunday lectionary? I believe this is an important piece of Scripture because it gives us an example of how we treat death and for that matter life.

We have these sons along with their mother and they are being subjected to religious violence. The Greeks were forcing the Jews to practice the Greek religion and to defile their faith in the one true God. Many Jews would not stand for that and they would eventually lead a revolt that would topple the Greeks. So we have this group of Jews being threatened with death while they are being tortured and it is all because they will not turn their backs on God. These individuals believe that their lives are less important if they deny God in order to live.

This causes me to ponder how we view death. Life is a rather cheap thing for many. All we have to do is take a look at how we so casually view death. We seem to be more calloused by the day when it comes to the horrors we human beings can inflict upon one another. Even comedians have noted how we humans seem to not really even budge emotionally when it comes to death unless it is an event that is extremely gruesome. Most times we will just click past the latest news of horror without even skipping a beat. Why?

I notice that I am receiving more and more frantic phone calls from people who have a loved one who is five minutes away from death and they expect me to be there even though I may be at least 30 minutes away. More frequently, the person in question has been very ill for a very long time yet haven't been to church in ages and have never called to see a priest except right at the very end. I am not passing judgment. I am merely presenting fact. Why do we seem to think that we can put things off until our death-bed and THEN we want to get right with God? Wouldn't we be valuing our life more if we took stock now instead of waiting until we are in a panic because we put things off and now we are terrified of death? If death is unimportant until we are at death's door then won't we treat life with as much disrespect?

Our Gospel reading has the Saducees being rather flippant about death. The Saducees were a group who didn't believe in life-after-death. These folk believed that what you got in this life was as good as it gets. Although they weren't so crass as many of us today, we might translate this into an "eat, drink, and be merry" attitude where we try to get as much out of life and give little to no thought about God's Kingdom.

The Saducees that come to Jesus toss out a rather goofy question and they know it is goofy because they are making fun of Jesus. They give Jesus the scenario of Moses' direction of how a woman who loses her husband and is childless is to be treated. Moses had the brothers of the deceased marry the widow. Not good for her! Anyone who says the Bible should be taken 100% literally needs to start queuing up to marry their brother's widow! Okay, that was snarky of me. Sorry.

So the Saducess want Jesus to give an equally ridiculous answer to their ridiculous question. These Saducees see death as trivial and so they ask a trivial question. But Jesus gives a very serious answer. Jesus reminds them that the very man they quote about the marriage deal is also the man who talked about life after death. Jesus reminds them they can't have it both ways.

How we live is a sure sign of how we view death. If we live a life in opposition to the Gospel then we must be saying that life after death isn't a concern. Well, that works until we face death and then we go into panic mode and we scramble to get our life straight with God. That is a shame really. We can have so much in this life if we follow the Gospel. I am not talking material things or power. I mean a life of spiritual blessings and peace. Imagine living a life that is modeled on Jesus instead of the latest celebrity. Imagine living a life of compassion, mercy, charity and grace. Imagine what we can experience with the Lord if we just open ourselves to his glory! If we do that, then we don't have to go into panic mode when our number is called and we are facing death. We can enter death with peace and comfort knowing that Jesus is waiting to welcome us home.