Perhaps the most challenging dimension of following God springs from His continually changing the field on which we do the following. Such a shift is especially clear in Sunday's first and third readings.

About a century and a half before Jesus' birth, some Jews began to believe there was more to life than just this world. As we see in the first chapter of Wisdom, they reasoned that if they developed a relationship with Yahweh, they'd live forever.

Yahweh is eternal, they figured, so any relationship with Yahweh must be eternal. If Yahweh doesn't die, neither will the persons who related with Yahweh die. Yahweh must keep them alive in order to maintain the relationship.

Beyond time

This insight expanded the field of faith into eternity, a concept which the authors of Maccabees immediately employed (2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14). Before this expansion, biblical authors had to limit their theology to God's acting in this life alone. In the situation narrated in the first reading, for instance, pre-eternity writers would have had to give their readers a reason the deaths of the seven brothers and their mother would benefit us who are still living in the world, we who cam onto the scene after their martyrdom.

But now, with the theological field expanded into eternity, the authors can use this narrative to give hope to those who actually die for Yahweh. Only someone who believes in a future with Yahweh can proclaim, "We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors."

The second brother, on the verge of death, expresses this belief in classic terms. "You accursed fiend," he shouts, "you are depriving us of this present life, but the king of the world will raise us up to live again forever!" The fourth brother follows suit: "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!"

The boys' words and their martyrdom make sense to anyone who has accepted this significant change in the field of faith. But what happens when a believer operating from an expanded field encounters a believer functioning in a limited field? We see the result in the Gospel (Lk 20: 27-38).

Luke reminds his readers up front that Sadducees believe life ends at death; they never took the step into eternity which their rivals, the Pharisees, had taken generations before. Quoting Deuteronomy's "levirate law" which states a brother must marry his deceased brother's widow if the brother died without male issue, these arch-conservative Jews attempt to paint Jesus (and all who believe in an afterlife) into a corner.

"Now there were seven brothers," they claim. All seven die childless, successively married to the same woman. "At the resurrection," they ask, "whose wife will she be?" A simple matter when the field of faith is this life alone, a complicated matter when life is extended beyond these confines.

God of living

Jesus responds with arguments from reason and Scripture, ending with the statement, "God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive for God." As Father Frank Cleary, Scripture professor at St. Louis University, teaches, "Jesus never seems to have tried to convert a Sadducee."

Because of their refusal to grow in faith, he and they shared almost no common ground. On the other hand, His frequent confrontations with Pharisees shows He thought they and He were on the same page of faith, though they usually emphasized different parts of that page.

After hearing these two readings, followers of God usually ask, "How do we know when God's calling us to change our field?" The second reading (2 Thes 2: 16-3:5) gives us a clue. Paul (or the Pauline disciple responsible for II Thessalonians) ends with the wish: "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ."

Remember, faith originally was extended beyond this life because of believers reflecting on their relationship with God. that relationship is the most important part of our faith. Who know where God is leading those who deeply relate to God? One thing is certain: If we continue to imitate biblical faith, our descendants eventually will wonder how we lived our faith in such limited confines.

(11-05-98)