32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

The Gospel derives from the Levirate law which demanded, “If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.”  The Sadducees, who did not believe in the afterlife, use this law to construct a ridiculous story of a woman who is childless when her first child dies and then goes through six other brothers without bearing a child before they die.  They then ask “at the resurrection, whose wife will that woman be?”  Jesus dismisses the story arguing the kingdom of heaven is a far bigger place than that.  Indeed, it is always important to remember just how big it is.  And how easily we can be forget that.

Even in that bizarre story though you must admire the commitment to follow the law, a quality presumed by Jesus and his opponents.  What was it like for the last brother?  Imagine bating seventh in that line-up?  Their faith was clearly at the center of their life.  The same devotion to religion is witnessed with a far darker hue in the reading from Maccabees.  Seven brothers, with the encouragement of a heartbroken mother, are killed one by one for their refusal to eat unclean food.

We can admire such courage, but often it is from afar.  Those stories seem ancient, belonging to an altogether different time.  Today, at least here, we can afford to carry our faith more loosely.  We can talk about what we believe and how we try to live our lives in accord with that faith.  Christianity can seem like a set of propositions from an external source we merely assent to.  But it is greater than that; and far more important than that.  For if today is like any other day in the last decade, about two hundred people will die for professing what we came here to profess.  It may be a courageous nun defending the rain forest in South Africa.  It may be a priest fighting a drug cartel in Mexico or a college student during a terrorist attack claiming their faith in Christ.  Today in burning Mosul, surely another martyr will be made.

They are teaching us.  They are showing the depth of our faith.  They are showing what is like to live for our faith and not just with it.  For who would die for just a set of ideas or for a sound moral teacher.  Christianity is belief in Jesus Christ, a person, our savior.  It is not a social experiment but a lived reality.  It is not an exercise of the mind, but the heart.  It is not just a belief, but is found deep in our marrow.  It is why the Gospel has political implications but cannot be reduced to politics even as Jesus in his life refused to be minimized by politics.  He was on a mission to rid the world of death and evil; he came not to win an argument but to save us.

After all, Jesus is not peaceful, he is peace.  Jesus is not just, he is justice.  Jesus is not compassionate, he is compassion.  We are called not to live his values but embody them, incarnate them in the world.  We just don’t love with affection.  We lay down our lives for our friends.

It is a daring thing to call oneself Christian, but it is all our glory to be chosen, to live beyond the fear of death, to be Christ for and to one another.  Let us enfold ourselves in the fullness of faith.  Let our faith be our beating heart, our ready hands and our courageous minds.  Let us be inspired by the martyrs of ancient times and todays to bear the name above all others.  Let us dare call ourselves Christians.