Today’s post contains several OT passages, along with a part of the Gospel of John, chapter 6. The first passage is from Second Maccabees:
38 Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and kept the sabbath there.
39 On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. 40 Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. 41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. 43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.
(2 Maccabees 12:38-45)
This passage is, from my understanding, the principle source of the Catholic and Orthodox Tradition of praying for the dead. In the Catholic Church the funeral Mass is set apart from all other types of masses, as it has some unique characteristics to it. This is especially true for Tridentine Masses. And of course, some of the most moving pieces of classical music were written with funeral masses in mind. Mozart’s Requiem is one of the most famous examples of these.
Now I turn to one of my favorite books in the bible, Tobit:
6 Then Raphael called the two of them privately and said to them, “Bless God and acknowledge him in the presence of all the living for the good things he has done for you. Bless and sing praise to his name. With fitting honor declare to all people the deeds of God. Do not be slow to acknowledge him. 7 It is good to conceal the secret of a king, but to acknowledge and reveal the works of God, and with fitting honor to acknowledge him. Do good and evil will not overtake you. 8 Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. 9 For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, 10 but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies.
I believe that this passage from the Book of Tobit has been featured before in this series, but reading it again I felt inspired to write about it. Verse 8 reached out to me, as it highlights how God seeks mercy from us more than sacrifice. We love Him best when we love one another. Hence the need to use what has been given to us towards the benefit of our fellow men. And of course, this should be done joyfully with praise to the Lord.
This brings us to the Gospel of John:
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
As the disciples later exclaim, this teaching is difficult. This was true not only with the original disciples and apostles, but into the early church and beyond. From what I understand, many biblical scholars believe that the reason the Gospel of John is so very different from the synoptic gospels is because it was written with a different, specific purpose in mind. It had a clear theological agenda, if you will. Amongst its purposes was the goal of reaffirming in the Church the divine nature of Jesus from before he was even born. Thus the reminder that in the beginning was the Word, and that Jesus is the Word, and that Word was made flesh. John’s Gospel makes all of this clear, and together with the rest of the New Testament explains how the old sacrifices of the past have been replaced with a new, final sacrifice. Sadly, the fact that John the Evangelist found it necessary to write his own Gospel demonstrates that even in the early church there were dissenters from its teaching. As Scripture reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun.