32nd Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: When challenged to adopt the values of the world, have I held steadfast to my faith; or have I succumbed to a secular and relativist world view?
In our relativist and secular world, it is not easy being a Christian. The relativist and secular forces of our society always stand ready to challenge our beliefs and our values, often marginalising and even ridiculing us. Reading the Scripture passages this week, we would conclude that it is not easy being a Christian in any age! Let us learn and reflect; and let our forefathers inspire us.
Set in the context of the Maccabean Revolt around 300BC, the First Reading tells of the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her seven children. At the time, the Jews were pressured by their Greek ruler to abandon their Jewish faith and culture and embrace Greek beliefs and culture. Many did, but some, like the family in the story, bravely refused. For their steadfast adherence to their faith, they were tortured and put to death. This story reminds us of one of Jesus’ teachings: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Today, in the face of increasing secularism and materialism in our society, as in Maccabean times, we too are challenged to abandon our faith and embrace the values of the world.
The secular world tells us that there is no eternal life; that our life on earth is all there is to life. In the “gospel” of the world, we are taught to focus on our enjoyment and sensual pleasure in this life, as there is no consequence beyond this life. Hence, everyone should be free to believe in whatever maximise one’s enjoyment and pleasure in this life. Everyone is free to create their individual value systems; believing in whatever he/she wants to believe. There is no absolute truth, everything is relative. Under this world view, we do not worship God because he does not enter our consciousness. In our obsession with enjoyment and pleasure, we are effectively glorifying ourselves. We worship ourselves. We are our own God.
Faced with similar oppositions in his times, without compromising his faith Paul declared in Rom 1:16 saying, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” What about me? Am I ashamed of the Gospel? In the face of the tidal wave of godless worship of self, I am asked to hold steadfast to my faith – not just for my own sake, but also for the sake for those who lost their way. With God’s help, let us convert hardened hearts and turn them away from their erroneous ways. In the Second Reading, Paul prayed for hope, comfort and strength. He prayed that he and others can spread God’s message quickly, and be protected from the interference of evil people. In our modern-day struggle against secularism, we too need hope, comfort, strength and protection. For without these virtues, we would easily be tempted and succumb to pressure ourselves, abandoning our faith and embracing the values of the world.
The Gospel story of seven brothers teaches us to look beyond our life on earth and look to eternal reality. The Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, posed a tricky theological scenario to Jesus: a woman married each of seven brothers during their lifetime. At resurrection time, whose wife will she be? Theological questions such as these are often asked by those who wish to shift attention to a non-personal topic so to deflect the focus from their own lives. How is my faith life? Have I succumbed to a secular and relativist world view? Have I worshipped myself more than I worship God? These are hard questions that we do not like. In the case of the Sadducees’ question, the answer lies in the fact that marriage is in fact an earthly institution, not a heavenly one. Marriage brings about an earthly union that mirrors our heavenly union with God; and to perpetuate life on earth through procreation. The earthly institution of marriage is no longer required and does not exist in heaven (verse 34-35). Marriage on earth points to heavenly truth. In a similar way, our earthly life mirrors our eternal life. Rather than deflect the focus from our own lives, let us reflect on our life on earthly – frequently and honestly. As Paul said in the Second Reading, “may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen [us].” (verse 16-17)