When the Bad Guys Win

As I mentioned in my last reflection, I—and millions of other Christians – have been listening to Father Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast since January 1st. As it happens, we just finished reading the First and Second Book of Maccabees, the source of today’s First Reading. These books are not included in the Protestant Bible, and even many Catholics are not especially familiar with them—I know I wasn’t. They sound different from most of the rest of the Bible, full of names of nations and leaders you would expect to encounter in history books. They are violent and graphic, and they tell tales of a people who valiantly and successfully defend themselves from much larger and more powerful nations.  

Today’s First Reading is really satisfying, isn’t it? Imagine King Antiochus, secure in the power of his army, head full of dreams of silver and gold. He is so certain of victory that when things don’t go his way, he is dismayed. In today’s slang, we might say he is “shook.” He is so overcome that he takes to his bed and prepares to die. On his deathbed he recognizes the price he has paid for his greed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if things always worked out that way—the virtuous victorious, the evildoers overthrown? That is not the norm in our fallen world, though. Remember that the victory in today’s First Reading was only temporary. Although God’s chosen people rose up, defeated the armies of Antiochus, and reclaimed the temple, we know that later they were conquered by the Romans and eventually the temple was again laid waste. You win some, you lose some, and many times the bad guys win. At least, so it seems.

Today’s list of saints is replete with martyrs—the Martyrs of Antioch, Heraclea, Turin, and the Spanish Civil war, the Martyred Sisters of the Christian Doctrine—and that is only a partial list! These holy men and women gave their lives in witness to their faith. The way the world sees it, when good people are persecuted, when they die for their beliefs, the bad guys have indeed won. But as Christians we are called to see not as the world sees, but as God sees. 

Because even though we must continue to strive for holiness in this world, even as we work for peace and justice and pray to bring about God’s Kingdom, we know how the story ends. As Jesus told the Sadducees in today’s Gospel, the dead will rise, for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  God does not ask all of us to die for Him, but we know that living for Him can bring its own crosses.  So when we are feeling hopeless and defeated about the state of the world, let us remember that “the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor shall the hope of the afflicted forever perish,” and let us rejoice in the salvation of our God!

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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