Vigil Mass for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C at St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith
Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 16(17):1, 5-6, 8,15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5; Luke 20:27-38
As we approach the end of the liturgical year, we are called to reflect on the meaning of our Christian faith and the hope of the future resurrection that sustains our effort. We realise that faith is not synonymous with certitude, satisfaction and self-fulfilment. Rather, it has to do with the rightly aligned heart, the dressed-for-action body and the lighted lamp on a dark night. It is the humble willingness to care for a house we don’t possess until its rightful owner comes home. It is the patient ability to wait and to act on account of a promise that has not yet been fulfilled.
Óscar Romero, who died a martyr in the name of justice for the poor in his homeland, expressed the sense of precarious and vulnerable discipleship as follows: “We may never see the end result, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers not Messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Scriptures this Sunday challenge us to move beyond the realms of personal gain, security and wellbeing to a larger concern for God’s purpose in the world. Those who live by the ethic of the kingdom must be guided by God’s vision of mercy, compassion and justice for all. Our Christian faith and discipleship must ultimately lead us to make a positive difference to the world around us, even at our own cost.
In the first reading, we hear the heroic witness of the Maccabees during the most turbulent period in Israel’s history. The foreign ruler Antiochus had captured Jerusalem, sacked the Temple and imposed laws that were repugnant to the Jews. This led to the failed popular revolt and subsequent persecution. Today’s episode shows how ruthless the persecution was. The Jewish mother and her seven sons were tortured to death in front of each other. Yet out of this public humiliation, the faithful remnants transcended their fears. It is the first time in the Old Testament that the belief in the resurrection of the dead is recorded here. “Relying on God’s promise”, one of the Maccabees says to his torturer, “we shall be raised up by him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.”
The Maccabees were guided by God’s vision, which goes beyond personal gain. Such vision is clearly absent from the mode of thinking and behaviour on the part of Jesus’ opponents. Instead, the Sadducees are more interested in protecting and perpetuating their privilege. The question they ask, which of the seven husbands will she be wife, reveals the system of oppression from which they benefit.
Jesus could see through their misogyny, prejudice and short-sightedness. Heaven to them was no more than an extension of the earthly experience and a continuation of the status quo, albeit through a privileged position. This kind of heaven fell short of the vision of the kingdom that Jesus taught. In fact, it was a distortion of the manifesto he had proclaimed and enacted in his ministry. Wherever he went, the sick were healed, the oppressed were freed, the forces of darkness were defeated and the transforming power of God prevailed.
Jesus rebuked his opponents for their self-centred religiosity. Rather than being a paradise of their warped imagination, heaven is a state of transcendent fullness. Hence, the children of the resurrection do not marry. He reminded them that God is God of the living, not the dead. Thus, there will be no patriarchal marriage arrangements in heaven. There will be no need of ensuring future security for the male, since everyone will live according to their dignity as children of God. Ultimately, this is God’s will and our duty not to perpetuate social norms and systems of power that favour the privileged, but to transform the world according to the way of Jesus.
Today is also designated as Prison Sunday. We recall the messianic manifesto of Jesus on his first day out in the synagogue. Prisoners were included, along with the blind and the poor. As his followers, we endeavour to see the face of Christ in them, respecting their dignity and hopefully helping them towards healing.
We remember the prisoners who despite their past have an inherent dignity. May they always maintain resilience and hope in the face of adversity. We stand with those who work in the prison system, including the courts, the police, the officials and in particular, the chaplains. Many of the latter are Catholic who endeavour to care for the inmates with the love and compassion of Christ. Their ministry starts from the standpoint of humility, not from superiority. It is the gift of Chaplains and Pastoral Workers in our prisons to be with the prisoners, to listen without judgment, to be our companion on the journey and to care with Christian compassion.
Let us renew our commitment to be the true followers of Christ in stretching our capacity to love. Scriptures today challenge us to move beyond the limits of our own life. We cannot be true to the Gospel if we safeguard our privileges and fail to deliver justice and human dignity to those who are unjustly deprived of it. May God’s vision of a dignified life for all guide our attitudes and actions. May we be agents and catalysts for a world that God inspires us and empowers us to build.
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