32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Between Cannibalism and Care
Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
Sisters and brothers, did any of you watch the movie that was playing in our local cinemas last year entitled The Road? It’s based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy of the same name. The story is set in a time after the apocalypse. The sky is dark and the landscape is gray. All the trees are dead or dying and the weather is bitterly cold. A man and his little boy are walking along a road, heading south. To stay alive, they have to scavenge for whatever food and water they can find. They must also be very careful, because the road is highly dangerous. There are ruthless gangs patrolling it, who have resorted to eating human flesh to survive. And all the father and son have for protection is an old pistol, loaded with two bullets.
I won’t say much more about what happens in the movie so as not to spoil it for those who haven’t watched it and who may want to do so later. But I do want to offer a reading of what the movie might be about. It is a depiction of life. The road represents life. Although it is filled with hardship and danger, the road is the only thing there is. You have no choice but to travel on it. And the road keeps going till you die. After that it may go on for others but not for you. All you can do is walk the stretch of road allotted to you, and to keep walking until death overtakes you. Death marks the end of the road for you.
But even if you can’t choose another road, in the movie, you can choose how you wish to walk this one. You can either choose to be a cannibal -- someone who’s willing to kill and eat other people in order to survive -- or you can choose to be like the father and son. In spite of their hardship, they refuse to kill others, except in self-defense. Their mode of survival -- the way they choose to walk the road -- is not cannibalism but care. Not only do they care for each other -- to the point of being willing even to lay down their lives for each other -- at some point in the story, they show their willingness to care even for people with whom they have no blood relation. They share their meager supply of food with a stranger, a helpless old man.
What do you think, sisters and brothers? Do you agree with the movie’s message? Do you agree that life is a road that ends when we die? That we can’t choose another road, but that we can and must choose how to walk this one: either to be a cannibal or a caregiver?
Like the movie, our readings today also speak to us about a road. In our responsorial psalm, the psalmist tells God that he walks in the paths of the Lord. My steps are steadfast, he says, my feet have not faltered. But what is this road that the Lord offers us to walk? Is it the same road as the one in the movie? The Sadducees in the gospel would probably say yes. For them, as in the movie, the road of life ends when we die. There is nothing for us beyond death. The Sadducees deny that there is a resurrection. But Jesus disagrees. According to him, the road of life does not end at death. Instead, Jesus insists that, for those who are deemed worthy of the resurrection from the dead, in death life is not ended but transformed. They can no longer die, he says, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
Unlike our movie, our readings today tell us that we do have a choice about which road we wish to walk. We can choose either the road of the Sadducees (and the movie) -- the road that ends with our death -- or we can choose the road of Jesus -- the road of the Resurrection. And the road we choose affects the way in which we live our lives. We see this in our first reading, where it is their hope in the Resurrection that gives the mother and her seven sons the courage to resist the king’s unlawful commands, even on pain of torture and death. You are depriving us of this present life, says one of them, but the King of the world will raise us up to live forever. In a similar way, in the gospel, Jesus too walks the road of the Resurrection. And he will mount the cruel cross on Calvary in the hope that his heavenly Father will raise him from death on the third day.
But there is still something crucially important that remains to be said, isn’t there? Is it enough for us simply to choose to walk the road of the Resurrection? Like the father and son in the movie, don’t we need also to decide how we want to walk this road? For example, isn’t it true that, in the gospels, the Pharisees also have a firm belief in the Resurrection? Yet Jesus criticizes their way of walking the road. And, to take an extreme example, we might also consider the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Those Al Qaeda agents had the courage to lay down their lives because, like the people in our first reading, they believed they were heading for a better existence after death. And what about people like that pastor in Florida, who wanted to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an? Don’t they also believe in the Resurrection? But are they walking this road in a way that the followers of Christ are called to walk it?
How then are we to understand the difference? What is it that should distinguish our way of walking the road of the Resurrection from the way of the Pharisees, the terrorists and the bigots of this world? Perhaps this is where our movie might yet have something to teach us. For isn’t there something that connects the Pharisees, the terrorists and the bigots of this world with the cannibals in the movie? Like the cannibals, in their concern for their own way of life, each of the first three groups of people are willing to sacrifice the well-being of others. To follow their own strict reading of the Law, the Pharisees are willing to sacrifice those most in need. To overthrow a society that they consider deeply sinful, the terrorists are willing to sacrifice the lives of many innocent people. And by calling all Muslims terrorists, the religious bigots among us end up imitating the very people they are fighting against.
In contrast to these forms of cannibalism, our readings call us to a different way of walking the road of the Resurrection. In the second reading, although St. Paul prays to be delivered from perverse and wicked people, he does not call for any form of violence against them. Instead, Paul prays that the Lord will direct our hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ. What does this mean if not that, in walking the road of the Resurrection, we are called to exercise the care that Christ shows to us sinners, the same care that the father and son exercise in the movie?
Today our readings present us with two distinct decisions. Not only are we being asked to choose the road on which we wish to walk, we are also being asked to decide how we wish to walk it. Not only are we being asked to prefer the road of the Resurrection to that of the Sadducees, we are also being called to turn from the cannibalism of the terrorist so as to embrace the care of Christ.
Sisters and brothers, how are we responding to this call today?