For those of you who are history buffs, this week’s readings are a treat. We have our first reading from 2nd Maccabees, one of those historical books that we have in our Catholic Bibles, that you won’t find in the Protestant ones. I love history, and I remember well my father often saying, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So what can we learn from this history lesson today?
The books of Maccabees tell the story of the Jews’ revolt against the Seleucid Greeks in the 2nd century BC. It was a time in the ancient world just after Alexander the Great and his Greek armies had expanded their empire eastward all the way to Afghanistan. Their conquered land included Judea, the part of world we now call Israel. The Greek emperors who followed Alexander the Great had the impossible task of trying to unite their vast and diverse lands under a common culture—the Greek culture. And, as with any culture throughout the ages, religion was the keystone. The Greek emperors started enforcing the worship of their pantheon of Greek gods, to the exclusion of any other god. And since Jerusalem happened to have a massive temple on a hill, they forced the Jews to dedicate the temple to Zeus. It was the complete opposite of religious freedom.
Some Jews went along with it. They accepted, little by little, the whittling away of their religious freedom. Bit by bit, they abandoned the faith of their fathers and allowed the dominant culture to take over their lives. When the Greek governors forced them to adopt their customs, they didn’t push back. Eat a little pork? No big deal. Burn a little incense in front of a statue? What’s the harm in that? At least the Greeks built us this nice new gymnasium!
But there were others who refused to comply with the Hellenization of their land. That’s the story we hear in today’s first reading. These brave Jews remembered that their land given to them by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who led his people out of slavery thru the Red Sea. The God who gave them the Law. The God who is I AM. The one and only true God.
The 2nd Book of Maccabees describes in detail the persecution of these Jews, who were tortured and killed for refusing to compromise their religious beliefs. The gory details have been excluded from today’s reading, but I assure you, they are there in the full text.
It isn’t difficult to see the connection between what happened then, and what is happening today.
- An overreaching government that impinges on religious freedom,
- The gradual compromising of religious practice in the name of comfort/convenience,
- The worship of false gods, like money or possessions
- The capitulation of the culture to the Sexual Revolution.
- The legalization of sins against the Natural Law and Divine Law.
As Providence would have it, our Gospel reading today contains a teaching about marriage, contained within a teaching on the resurrection. First, a word on the resurrection, then we’ll tackle the issue of marriage.
The Sadducees were trying to entrap Jesus into denying the resurrection, but instead he affirms the resurrection all the more. He says, “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.” Jesus acknowledges their understanding of marriage, and reaffirms that it is only a union for this life, and not in the life to come.
But why? If marriage is such a good and holy thing, as the Church teaches, why would Jesus have said such a thing? because marriage in this life is only a reflection, a sign of a much deeper reality: The union of Christ and his Church. You see, it’s not that there will be no marriage in Heaven, it’s that there will be ONE marriage in heaven—the marriage of the Lamb and his bride, the Church. Our marriages on earth are a sacrament, that is, a sign, of the eternal marriage of God and his People. The Eucharist we share here on earth is a sign of the heavenly wedding banquet, the wedding supper of the Lamb.
Will the woman see her seven husbands again in heaven, at the resurrection of the dead? YES! In the communion of the saints. But that bond that existed on earth will have given way to the stronger and eternal bond of Jesus and his Church. In that bond, we will all be united, and we will never again want for companionship.
Now, there is another teaching contained in this gospel, and it’s about the earthly institution of marriage. Once an institution taken for granted, it is now subject to attack from a vocal and powerful minority, and from our government leaders who are wrapped tightly around their fingers. These leaders and those who influence them intend to chip away at our religious freedom in order to accomplish their takeover of the culture. They intend to unravel the very fabric of society, the family, in order to refashion it in their own image. The Enemy is on their side, and there’s a reason for that. He wants to destroy marriage because of the deeper reality that marriage signifies. That’s what’s at stake. That’s why we must stand up for the definition of marriage.
And what is the definition of marriage? If we look closely at this passage, we can tease out a few of the essential components of marriage:
- Marriage is exclusive—only one spouse at a time. The woman in the Sadducees’ example took only one husband at a time. This reveals to us that even in the time of Jesus, a legal marriage was between one man and one woman. And so it is true today, no matter what the dominant culture tells us.
- Marriage is permanent until the death of a spouse. Only death can dissolve a marriage. Jesus says, “the children of this age marry and remarry…” but he isn’t giving us permission for divorce. He is speaking in the context of the example given, which is that the woman is widowed again and again. It is death and only death that dissolves the bond of marriage, not divorce. No matter what the dominant culture tells us.
- Marriage is for begetting children. One reason the law said that a widow must marry her husband’s brother was for the fruitfulness of the family. The husband who dies without leaving children had not carried out one of the fundamental purposes of marriage, namely, to have children. Fruitfulness is an essential part of being married. No matter what the dominant culture tells us.
- Marriage is for mutual help. Another reason the law said that a widow must marry her husband’s brother was for her material security. The widow was extremely vulnerable to poverty without a man to provide for her. While today women have ample opportunity for employment, the need for mutual help has not gone away. How difficult it is for a woman to try to raise children by herself while working a full-time job! But it wasn’t meant to be that way. The mutual help of husband and wife was in the plan from the beginning. No matter what the dominant culture tells us.
If we want to prevent the further undermining of our society, then ordinary people, right here in Abbott/Penelope, Texas, must work to strengthen its foundation: the family. We must remember what marriage is, and what constitutes marriage. We must NOT BE ASHAMED OR AFRAID to speak the truth about it. And most of all, most importantly, we must show our children what marriage is by the way we live our lives. Your marriage is not about you. It’s about giving yourself away in love for your spouse.
After all, that is what our Lord did for his bride.