One of the rules we had in our house growing up, was that you had to eat all the food on your plate before you could be excused. For those of you who also had this rule, you might remember how easy you thought it was to get away with. Putting the food in our napkins was a big one. Parents always knew to look there; dropping the food on the floor so the dogs could eat it, only got the dogs in
trouble, and then sent out of the kitchen. My sister thought she had the perfect scheme. She put some Brussel sprouts in a napkin, asked to be excused and hid it in the trash can in the bathroom. Only to have our dog, Chrissy, bring it into the kitchen and spit it out on the floor.
I’m sure the first thing on her mind was: “…boy, am I going to get into trouble.” When mom and dad burst out laughing, I believe that all of us kids had learned our lesson. “Eat all the food on your plate” actually means “Eat all the food on your plate.”
Last year I had the honor and pleasure to talk to the upper grades at St. Mary’s Parish School about my dad who was in Japanese prison camp during World War II. When he or his buddies were asked “What was the worst thing that happened to you?” the answer was almost always the same: “the bugs” and “the starvation and hunger.” That was why we had to eat everything on our plate… My dad had seen plenty of men, prisoners and their captors, starve.
He got lucky in one prison camp; he was put to work in the kitchen. Although stealing food carried the sentence of death, he soon discovered that if you cook rice too long, it would brown or burn on the bottom of these huge rice cooking pots, and their captors would refuse to eat it. So he and his buddies would scrape the bottom of these giant iron rice cookers and carry it back to the barracks to feed the ones who needed it most.
My dad taught my mom how to cook burnt rice and until my dad passed away we literally had burnt rice with just about every meal at the dinner table. Food is life. It keeps us alive. We know which foods we like, and which we don’t. For instance, I learned very early on that on the fifth day “God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and moves about.” (Gen. 1:20-21) I just never saw anywhere in the Bible where God says “eat the fish!”
Family is life. It keeps us alive. We were not created alone on the sixth day. God made us in his image and likeness. “Male and female he created them.” When we see a baby, we flock toward it. We marvel at their first sound and their first steps. We take pictures at weddings and for Christmas cards and plan family reunions. We cry at the death of a loved one and pray for those who have gone before us to a place, where one day, we hope to be.
Faith is life. It keeps us alive. In the first reading, the Greeks emphasized that if we have a sound mind and body we will live a meaningful life. Go against what the Greeks wanted and their power would decide if you lived or died. What good is having that life if you have to go against all your convictions and traditions and be disloyal to your family and friends and God? The seven brothers and their mother would rather lose this life in order to gain the next. In fact one says, at the point of death: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for this that we are dying.” (2 Macc 7:9)
Prayer is life. It keeps us alive. St. Paul prays twice today in his second letter to the Thessalonians. The first is that the Lord Jesus Christ himself may “…encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” His second prayer is more of a lesson and a bit of encouragement toward faith: “We are confident of you in the Lord, that what we instruct you, you are doing and will
continue to do. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.”
Wisdom is life. It keeps you alive. And Jesus had the wisdom needed to draw us into the hope of the next world. The Sadducees attempt to embarrass him about the resurrection of the dead. These Sadducees were a conservative, aristocratic, religious-political Jewish party with some special access to, and functions in, the Jerusalem Temple. They denied the resurrection of the dead, the existence of
angels and only accepted the written law of Moses, which we would call the “Torah,” the first five books of the Old Testament.
Jesus does not answer their question about the seven husbands and the woman. He simply reminds them that our experience in this world’s here and now is a great life! How much better will it be in the life to come? He proves to them that the letter of the Law and the Spirit of the law must be balanced with Wisdom. It is Wisdom that leads us to prayer; it is Prayer that leads us to faith; it is Faith that leads us to family, where we encourage each other by our prayers. And it is Family that leads us to food, to go forth and bear good fruit, to heal our hunger and slake our thirst. We must remember we are made for heaven. And here on earth we ask the Holy Spirit for guidance so we may use every good gift that God gives us in mind and heart; to turn down the current volume of negative thoughts
Love is an action. It keeps you alive. Along with Food, Family, Faith, Prayer, Wisdom, and maybe an iron pot full of burnt rice, we are made to be with God. And we must never forget about Christ, who is found in all we meet.