First Reading: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14

A Family of Martyrs

Why do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?

1 It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God's law. 2 One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: "What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors."

9 At the point of death he said: "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." 10 After him the third suffered their cruel sport. He put out his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely held out his hands, 11 as he spoke these noble words: "It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again."

12 Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man's courage, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing. 13 After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way. 14 When he was near death, he said, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life."

New American Bible

In the time before the Roman conquest of Palestine, an editor abridged a longer work about a Jewish uprising. We know this book as 2 Maccabees. The book chronicled the events during the oppressive rule of the Seleucid dynasty. While they ruled Syria, the Seleucid kings descended from the generals of Alexander the Great. Greek in language and culture, the dynasty tried to unite the subjects of their empire around that same language and culture. Conservative Jews resisted the foreign influence. The Syrian government pressed on with draconian measures. And a revolt broke out that eventual succeeded.

The martyrdom of the Jewish mother and her seven sons takes up chapter seven. The dialogue between the king and the sons revealed pre-Christian spirituality among many Jews. Justice was in the hands of God. The righteous would receive their reward, if not in this life, in the next. Hence many among the populace believed in the resurrection of the dead. This narrative gave the oppressed Jews a reason to keep kosher laws even in the face of death.

These verses clearly show the belief in the resurrection predated Jesus and the early Church. While the story was told to heighten the bravery of the martyrs, it does tell us why generations have held onto the doctrine of resurrection. God is just. He will reward the faithful and punish the evil at the end of time.

Does a belief in the resurrection comfort you like the mother of the seven martyred sons? How?