by Father Mike Stubbs
Sometimes, Catholic are concerned when they see that the Protestant Bible does not contain seven books that are found in the Catholic Old Testament.
Those books are called the deuterocanonical books. The reason for their omission from the Protestant Bible goes back to a fairly complicated history which we will not delve into.
Sunday’s first reading — 2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14 — comes from one of those books: the Book of Maccabees. It tells the story of seven brothers who were martyred under pagan rule because of their faithfulness to God and to the Torah. Specifically, they refused to eat pork, a forbidden food. In the midst of their sufferings, they affirm their belief that God will reward them in the resurrection from the dead: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”
They reason that God’s justice demands that we receive reward and punishment in the next life, if we do not receive it in this one. Since we too often see injustice triumph in this world, we can look forward to justice prevailing in the next.
This teaching on resurrection receives particular emphasis in 2 Maccabees. In most earlier writings of the Old Testament, it was either not mentioned at all or only hinted at. But 2 Maccabees clearly states it and boldly proclaims it.
That is why the Sadducees, who engage Jesus in a debate in the Gospel reading, Lk 20:27-38, do not accept 2 Maccabees as part of the Bible.
In fact, they do not include any of the deuterocanonical books. They reject 2 Maccabees, because they reject its chief doctrine — that of the resurrection — as the Gospel reading points out: “Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward.”
The hypothetical question that they pose to Jesus concerning the seven brothers who marry the same woman comes across as a satirical play on the story of the seven brothers who are martyred in 2 Maccabees. They seek to twist that story into an impossible situation. If all seven brothers had married, one by one, the same woman, then which brother would be her husband in the resurrection? But Jesus rises to the challenge.
Jesus affirms his belief in God as the God of the living and, consequently, of the resurrection. That teaching builds upon and confirms the teaching of 2 Maccabees, that God is a God of justice, who will bring about justice through the resurrection of the dead, the justice that we often do not see happening in this life.