November 6, 2022
Sister Ana Cloughly, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
The Incarnation God
In the gospel narrative today, the Sadducees (scholarly leaders of the temple in Jerusalem) encountered Jesus and put to him a rather ridiculous question devised to challenge Jesus about his belief in resurrection. Although the lectionary puts the story from 2 Maccabees about a Hebrew mother and her seven sons who were put to death for not defiling themselves by eating pork which is forbidden by God’s law and emphasizes their belief in resurrection, the question the Sadducees put to Jesus refers to another story from the book of Tobit. (I am including below a little about where, when and who wrote Tobit, 2 Maccabees and the Gospel of Luke. This will hopefully help to put my reflection into historical context.)
Tobit, a devout and wealthy Israelite living among the captives deported to Nineveh from the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722/721 B.C., suffers severe reverses and is finally blinded. Because of his misfortunes he begs the Lord to let him die. But recalling the large sum he had formerly deposited in far-off Media, he sends his son Tobiah there to bring back the money. In Media, at this same time, a young woman, Sarah, also prays for death, because she has lost seven husbands, each killed in turn on his wedding night by the demon Asmodeus. God hears the prayers of Tobit and Sarah and sends the angel Raphael in human form to aid them both. I encourage you to read the whole story.
This story was well known to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. So, it is very likely Jesus knew the story as well. The answer Jesus gives is no doubt surprising to everyone. Their question was “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally, the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”
Jesus tells the Sadducees “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Our systems of spiritual belief have developed over time. The Hebrew Scriptures recount a belief in God that begins as a tribal God, the God of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants extending to the of Moses. With Moses came the promise of a land that God was giving the descendants of Abraham and where God would dwell with them. With the Assyrian captivity, the Jews (Jew meaning a place of origin, Judaea) had to figure out how to live their lives as believers in the One God while separated from the land where God was thought to reside. This is where the book of Tobit offers some insight. Tobit believed that living a righteous life, caring for the poor, burying the dead, in essence living a good and honest life connected him and his family to God.
Eventually, the Jews were able to go back to their land and reestablish their worship of God. But they were invaded again by Babylon and exiled from their land. As they saw it, separation from their land was a punishment for not following God’s laws. Again, they returned and again established a temple which facilitated a sacrificial spirituality.
Jesus lived just before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. It seems to me, Jesus’ response in this specific encounter opens another way of experiencing God, especially for women, although it has taken a very long time for women to claim their rightful place in salvation history. Jesus puts women and men together, on the same plain in the resurrection. No one is “given” in marriage. They will no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
Over the centuries since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, both Christians and Jews have had to expand their beliefs. First century Jews, especially with the growth of Rabbinic Judaism, became aware that their role as “a light to the nations” was even more important. It is significant that today Muslim women (also people of the book, believers in the One God) are rising up to claim their rightful place in God’s plan.
As journeyers on the path of spiritual development, we have a new and unexpected challenge: Science.
Science, especially in physics is opening new ways of understanding humanity’s place in creation. With new images from the James Webb Space Telescope and advances in Quantum Physics, especially Quantum Field exploration, everything we thought we knew is being challenged. The concept of a Cosmic Christ put forth by Teilhard de Chardin is becoming ever more plausible. We know that our universe is ever evolving. We see that humans are but a very tiny part of creation and with this humbling realization, I prayerfully pray, who are we that you keep us in mind, mere mortals that you care for us? Yet, that is what God did in becoming human, in taking on our human condition.
These scripture descriptions are taken for the most part from the USCCB website. USCCB.org
Tobit, a devout and wealthy Israelite living among the captives deported to Nineveh from the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722/721 B.C.
Although the Book of Tobit is usually listed with the historical books, it more correctly stands midway between them and the wisdom literature. It contains numerous maxims like those found in the wisdom books (cf. 4:3–19, 21; 12:6–10; 14:7, 9) as well as standard wisdom themes: fidelity to the law, intercessory function of angels, piety toward parents, purity of marriage, reverence for the dead, and the value of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The book makes Tobit a relative of Ahiqar, a noted hero of ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature and folklore.
Written most likely in Aramaic, the original of the book was lost for centuries. Fragments of four Aramaic texts and of one Hebrew text were discovered in Qumran Cave 4 in 1952 and have only recently been published. These Semitic forms of the book are in substantial agreement with the long Greek recension of Tobit found in Codex Sinaiticus, which had been recovered from St. Catherine’s Monastery (Mount Sinai) only in 1844, and in mss. 319 and 910. Two other Greek forms of Tobit have long been known: the short recension, found mainly in the mss. Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Venetus, and numerous cursive mss.; and an intermediate Greek recension, found in mss. 44, 106, 107. The Book of Tobit has also been known from two Latin versions: the long recension in the Vetus Latina, which is closely related to the long Greek recension and sometimes is even closer to the Aramaic and Hebrew texts than the Greek is; and the short recension in the Vulgate, related to the short Greek recension. The present English translation has been based mainly on Sinaiticus, which is the most complete form of the long Greek recension, despite two lacunae (4:7–19b and 13:6i–10b) and some missing phrases, which make succeeding verses difficult to understand and make it necessary to supplement Sinaiticus from the Vetus Latina or from the short Greek recension. Occasionally, phrases or words have been introduced from the Aramaic or Hebrew texts, when they are significantly different. Forms of the Book of Tobit are also extant in ancient Arabic, Armenian, Coptic (Sahidic), Ethiopic, and Syriac, but these are almost all secondarily derived from the short Greek recension.
2 Maccabees is a deuterocanonical book which recounts the persecution of Jews under King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt against him. It concludes with the defeat of the Seleucid Empire general Nicanor in 161 BC by Judas Maccabeus, the leader of the Maccabees. 2 Maccabees was originally written in Koine Greek by an unknown diaspora Jew living in Hellenistic Egypt. It was likely written sometime between 150 and 120 BC
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel according to Luke is the first part of a two-volume work that continues the biblical history of God’s dealings with humanity found in the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Jesus and how the salvation promised to Israel and accomplished by Jesus has been extended to the Gentiles. This history is first of all about salvation history. It is important to note that the Gospel of Luke was written around the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.