2Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14; Luke 20: 27-38
Mark Twain once wrote, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life.” He recognized, probably within himself, that the two, death and life, were very much intertwined and one and the same. He went onto say that if we live our lives fully we are always prepared to die! It is believed that this fear is the root of all fears, the fear of death, despite the fact that it is a natural part of who we are and the world around us. Yet, that fear can run so deep within us that it prevents us and holds us back from living so often and Twain recognized that reality. It is a reality that we often try to avoid, we don’t like to talk about it, we will do everything in our power to run from it, but eventually it catches up with us. The more we run and the less we speak of it, the more power it has over us. For the next several weeks we will turn towards those end times in our readings for the weekends into Advent, an opportunity to recognize what is being called to die within the self so that we too may live.
All too often we believe it to be something that will come later, but the invitation in Scripture and from Jesus is that it is happening now. We are always called into this mystery of life and death. Maybe it’s the unknown that we fear just as much despite everything about our faith telling us to trust and that life will follow when we let go and surrender.
A rather dramatic example occurs in the first reading today when we hear about the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, Mother Courage as she is known, who has to witness the death of one after another. It’s best to pull out the bible and read the story in its entirety to truly appreciate all that unfolds. The brothers are being forced to eat pork by the king, who himself is in a desperate situation where all around him has been destroyed. He’s a tyrant by our standards. We could only imagine the fear and anxiety that these boys had faced when death approached. It would only be through Mother Courage that they would open themselves to the distress of the unknown and the torture of death; yet, in one of the rare instances, they too have this deep sense of faith of something beyond death. If we experience death of self enough, we begin to see within ourselves the courage to face it when it comes again. This is where the brothers were moving with the deep faith and the miraculous courage of their mother. Even the king marvels at the courage of the boys, and yet, we could only believe that it was a deep fear within himself that prevented him from saving their lives. He too, like so many of us, become trapped in our way of thinking and become desperate when we are pushed to the edge as he is. The irony, his fear leads to further death whereas as their recognition of fear and yet deeply rooted in faith, leads them to eternal life.
The issue of life and death becomes more imminent in the gospel as well these next weeks now that we are in Jerusalem and Jesus is approaching his own impending death. Today it is a conflict with the Sadducees, the lawyers of his time, who did not believe in the resurrection. They try to trip him up, as they often do, by using Scripture. They are fixated on death and a belief that there is nothing beyond it. Jesus speaks of the encounter of Moses at the burning bush when God reveals his identity to the him and proclaiming to be the God of the living. For the Sadducees it was about time as we know it as humans, of this world, for Jesus, it was an eternal life and time. They talk past one another and will lead to further conflict. They are trapped within their minds preventing them from experiencing life eternal within them.
As we enter into these final weeks of Ordinary Time and the end times become the focus, we call to mind that the message for us is not only about the end of our lives but for today. There are things within us that have to die today in order for us to live. Quite honestly, we become comfortable with death. We know it; and so often it is the known in our lives that we must let die. Over the week, recognize the times when you are holding tightly to what you think is life; the reality is, it’s probably something that must die. Our need for control, our pride, gets in the way. Resentments and bitterness get in the way and need to go. Sometimes even relationships we’re in need to go or change. Often it’s just our thoughts that consume us and keep us awake. All of it needs to die, be surrendered, in order for new life to bloom. We pray today to Mother Courage that she may do for us as she did for her sons to push forward and not give into death, over and over again, but welcome it our lives, knowing, with deep faith, that life will spring eternal. The mystery of life and death is who we are; it’s burned within our very being. As Mark Twain said, if we live life fully today there is no need to worry about tomorrow.