32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – November 6, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
The Maccabean Revolt
Anyone a history buff here? Anyone ever heard of Alexander the Great? About 400 years before Jesus, Greece conquered the majority of the known world, and at the head of that was the leader Alexander the Great. When we think about the Old Testament and the people of God, the Israelites, the Jews, the history leading up to Jesus—I think there is a tendency to forget that these people still lived and interacted with all of the shifts in world powers. Israel was not the world power, never was; it ebbed and flowed with the actual world power. We know how they were enslaved to Egypt, until Moses led them out. David was a great king, but we forget that after him the kingdom split into two kingdoms, northern and southern, and that the northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians, and later the southern kingdom was overrun by the Babylonians, and the people were led off into captivity. And when the people were finally allowed to return, it wasn’t long before Greece came along—led by Alexander the Great.
Alexander’s goal, his central goal was to conquer the world so as to bring the whole world under one common culture, the Greek culture. But Alexander knew that you can’t just conquer people and magically expect the culture to change. A culture change is hard. Dorothy Day once said, “Cult cultivates the culture.” Cult, the way we worship, what we worship—cult is what cultivates the culture. So along with his military conquest came a great effort to impose the culture by changing the cult: to impose the worship of the gods of Greece, but also to speak Greek, to think like the Greeks and to use Greek philosophy. The “cult,” the religious culture, the language, the customs—everything had to change. Cult cultivates the culture.
So what is Alexander doing? It’s exactly what we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks: he is imposing a new worldview, a new way of looking at the world, a new way of seeing, new lenses. Everything is going to be seen through the Greek lenses, the Greek worldview. Everything. Alexander, much more than imposing his military control, is imposing a new worldview, a new set of lenses.
And yet, the people in Israel were different. Alexander is so impressed with them that he decides to let them continue their religious practices. It all fell apart, though, when Alexander suddenly died. His great empire fell into the hands of two of his generals: the Ptolemais and the Seleucids. The Ptolemais initially took control of the land of Israel and allowed the Jews to continue their religious practices. But soon the Seleucids took over, and things changed. Antiochus Epiphanes, the leader of the Seleucids, comes into Jerusalem and begins to forcefully impose this Greek worldview, and thus began the great Maccabean revolt, led by Judas Maccabeus—that’s where we get the name for the books of first and second Maccabees. What is Antiochus Epiphanes’ game plane, though? Well, he is no longer going to allow for the tolerance of Alexander or the Ptolemais. People will adopt the worldview, the lenses of Greece, or die.
So this is where the story picks up in our first reading. We are told a story about a mother and her seven sons. “It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king [Antiochus], to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law” (2 Mac 7:1). What is going on? Why is Antiochus picking on this poor family? And all he’s trying to do is get them to eat pork? What’s going on? Well, an incredibly effective way to get an entire town and people to flip, to change their worldview, to change their lenses, is to go after the leaders in a particular place: get them to flip, and everyone else is easy picking. Jews are not allowed to eat pork, it is a direct violation of God’s law. So getting them to eat pork is a great symbolic action that they are renouncing God—and that everyone should follow suit.
But, quite unexpectedly, the reaction from the boys and their mom isn’t what Antiochus expected. “One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: ‘…We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors’” (2 Mac 7:2). And die they did. One by one, each brother is brutally tortured and put to death in front of his other brothers and his mother. And the whole time, their mother is encouraging to stand firm, to endure whatever may come, to resist their temptation to violate God’s law! And why? This is important, why are they so firm in resistance? Because of their hope in resurrection. Each of the sons affirms that his actions are empowered by the hope of resurrection: “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever,” “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him” (2 Mac 7).
What is going on? Why is this so important?
So take a step back. What is going on here? Why is this story so important? Why do we need to hear it? What is the point it is trying to make? Two main things. One, it is a story that clearly shows that true hope is founded on belief, on faith in the resurrection from the dead; there is hope that God will not just let us fall into death forever. And this is the hope Jesus is going to confirm. This is the hope Jesus explicitly confirms in our Gospel today, and then by his own resurrection. So the first thing is it that is clearly shows that a clear vision of reality, the “lenses” we have to use, are the lenses of “ hope in resurrection.” And two, the second main point, is that our proper attitude, our proper response is to resist the lenses the world, and to embrace the lenses of God.
Greece has come along, and Greece is intentionally trying to impose not just military or political control. Greece is here to impose a worldview, a new set of lenses, a new way of seeing the world. And this worldview isn’t neutral. It isn’t just, “Hey, let’s all speak Greek and use Greek money,” no. A change in worldview isn’t that simple. A change in worldview always includes a change in “cult,” a change in who or what is “god.” Cult cultivates the culture. Whatever people worship, whatever is placed at the center of people’s lives and affections and priorities—that is “god.” So here in this scene of the mother and her seven sons, Antiochus isn’t just saying, “Have you ever tried barbecue pork? Oh! So tasty!” No. He’s saying, “Put on a new worldview. Reject the worldview given to you by God, and put on the worldview of Greece.”
Do you see that? Here as Greece seeks to impose a new way of seeing the world, which is also a complete rejection of God, it is this mother and her seven sons that are given to us as an example of people that are seeing clearly. As the Greeks seek to impose this new worldview, this family continues to see through the lenses given to them by God.
It Is A Question of Worldview
For us, it’s back to the question of worldview: how do you see the world, what are your lenses? It is easy for us to forget that even today we are being asked to adopt a worldview, to put on lenses that seem very innocuous. They can seem harmless but are actually a radical shift away from God. There isn’t some huge military takeover happening in Rice County, so it’s easy to think we are at peace, that we are in control, that everything is fine. And yet, there is an Enemy trying to impose a new worldview. Cult cultivates the culture.
Culture, the lenses our culture give us, say: this is all there is, you have one life to live, 77 years; life is about finding a good job, making money, buying the things you want, enjoying life; try to achieve something, be successful; make sure your kids are the most important thing in your life, make sure they are involved in everything that the other kids are involved in, make sure that they play sports every night of the week; “god” is just for people that can’t figure things out themselves, people that don’t understand that we don’t need religion or “god” or “church” anymore; no one’s life is as important as your life, don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way, “love yourself.” And so on and so on. These are the lenses that are being given to us.
And if that is the culture, what is the “cult” that has cultivated that culture? Me. Myself. Life is all about me. It is a “cult” of “me.” The great lie at the center of it all is the same lie, the same deception that the Enemy has been proposing since he proposed it to Adam and Even in the beginning: “God is not good. And you can’t trust him. He’s holding out on you. If you just had this you would be happy, and he won’t let you have that. Just rebel. You can find happiness apart from him.” The Enemy deceives us by telling us the simple lie: “If you just did whatever you think will make you happy, what the culture tells you will make you happy, you will find happiness.”
Not a “society” problem but a “me” problem
So this homily is not a diatribe about “the woes of society.” I am not trying to rile you up and get your blood boiling about how messed up our culture is. That would be too easy. We know the problems out there. Abortion, racism, greed, corruption—we all know them.
The question is, “Does the first reading focus our attention on the problems with the Greeks and their worldview and the culture they are imposing?” No. What does it focus our attention on? The worldview of this mother and her seven sons, and the response they give because of that worldview. Here is this mother, in the face of an imposing and seductive culture. And instead of telling her kids to go along with it, to have a nice life and whatever—this mother encourages her children to resist, even when that means they are going to suffer, even when that means they will be rejected, even when that means they will die. The story doesn’t focus our attention on the problems of the Greeks, it focuses our attention on the faith, the lenses of the mother and her sons, and their response, their resistance to the imposition of a false worldview.
How do we see the world? What are our lenses?Is it Jesus and his resurrection that shape my worldview? Do we delight in the law of God? Is it his Church that gives me the lenses to see? Or do I make compromises? Do I give in?
Are you going to adopt the predominant cultural worldview, sacrifice your kids to the culture around them? Or are you willing to put on the mind, the lenses of Christ and his Church, and to let them endure suffering and persecution because of it?
Fathers, this should strike you in a particular way. This scene in our first reading strikes me because of the absence of the father. Where was the father of these sons? There is some good data that shows the unique role that fathers play in the lives of their children when it comes to the faith. In fact, it is the father that is the single most important factor in the faith lives of their children. Even if mom takes the kids to Mass every Sunday, if dad is not involved or only nominally involved…the chance that the kids continues to practice the faith into adulthood is less than 5%.
The culture is not neutral. Culture does’t come out of nowhere. Cult cultivates the culture. There is a cult, a “god” of this world, of this culture. And it isn’t the one true God. And yeah, you aren’t going to be skinned, have your tongue cut out, have your hands cut off, fried, and then killed if you resist. But you will undergo verbal attacks: innuendo, gossip, and reputation destruction. People will exclude you. People will mock you. That’s what we will have to face.
To offer everyone in our community a life-changing encounter with Jesus
Why is this important for us? Because it has to begin with us, with out witness—we have to live it.
But then we have to share it. And it is our witness that will be the first and most powerful means of sharing this. People will talk about us, they will ask why we are different. And people will be drawn to us. Our witness should attract others. Because people are tired of the lenses that the world has given them. They’re tired! But they don’t know where else to turn. “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” Comfort and “normal” win out over uncomfortable and “new.” We will appear to them as something much different. And that will be attractive.
And as a parish we need to be ready to share with them the good news. As a parish, be ready to welcome them when they come searching for a new set of lenses. That’s why I say that the mission here is to offer everyone in our community a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Everything in our parish and in our own lives, in our families, must begin to place this mission at the forefront.
As we come to this Eucharist, we come not just to say some prayers, not just to fulfill our “Sunday obligation.” We are here to be united to Christ, to be changed, to be transformed. This Eucharist draws us into the very heart of Jesus Christ, into the divine life. But the divine life never stay put—it goes out. And it goes out in love to bring this news of hope to the world.