The first reading today(2 Maccabees 7.1-2,7,9-14) is powerful and moving. We hear of this family of 7 brothers and the mother, one by one tortured and executed because they would not partake in practices that contradicted their faith in God. They were essentially killed because of their faith.
As brutal as this sounds we all know that this is not just something that happened in biblical times, but that it still happens today. As one who doesn’t follow the news a whole lot, a quick internet search brings up countless stories of others who have died because of their witness, by their actions, to God.
I have often wondered what I would do when placed in a situation where I was challenged for my belief in God, where death was placed before me? How does someone have this amount of courage, to be able to die to this world with peace and hope?
The answer comes in our Gospel today(Luke 20.27-38). There is a reason that these people who die for their faith are called ‘martyrs’. The word ‘martyr’ means “witness”. Martyrs witness to the existence of a higher realm, to a world beyond what we know here. This is why their persecutors have no power over them, no way to convince them otherwise, as I heard explained recently by Father Robert Barron, “A persecutor’s power [such as in the case of someone on trial for their belief in God] comes from a conviction that this life and the goods in it constitute the entirety of reality.” But for those who are martyred real life is eternal life. Faith in external life enables them to sacrifice their earthly lives for Christ, for the promise of something even greater, eternal union with God, as we hear in the Psalm(17): “I shall be satisfied, Lord, when I awake and behold your likeness.” We hear Jesus affirm this as He is challenged by the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection and loved the pleasures of the world(even disregarding many of the common Jewish practices and beliefs); “The children of this age…nor are given in marriage.” What Jesus is basically saying here is that those who believe and put their trust in the world worry about things of the world, but those who have their life set on things above do not worry about the things of this world.”
So what does this mean for us? How can we witness? How can we be ready to die for our faith? We will probably never have to face death because of our beliefs, but we can still witness even if it isn’t with our own blood.
We can witness by living our lives for heaven, by putting our trust and hope in the Lord. Jesus died on the cross before he rose. In the same way, we also must die before we can rise; die to the things of this world, our attachment to it and to sin, by pursuing that which pleases God, and die to our own will and our own desires in living by Christ’s example. We can be assured by Paul’s letter to the Romans(6.8); “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
There is life after death, this is our hope and this is what we witness to as believers in God and in his Son Christ Jesus! So the real question is; are you willing to put your life on it, as many have before you?!
2 Thessalonians 2.16-3.5