A note before we get into it … these books are sometimes referred to as “apocryphal” or as part of the “Apocrypha.” Some Scripture scholars would object to this term. “Apocrypha” refers to a writing that is partly or wholly secret–something only shown or revealed to those on the inside. Clearly, this isn’t the case with the books of Maccabees. Though not part of the Jewish canon of Scripture, they are in no way hidden from good Jews. Or Christians. Indeed, the stories are well-known among people with a basic literacy of the Bible or of Jewish history. “Deuterocanonical” is the preferred term.
2 Maccabees relates the story of a surprisingly successful uprising in response to the tightening grip of foreign oppression. Almost two centuries before Christ preached, Judas Maccabeus was praised for his piety and his thoughtfulness for the dead:
Judas the ruler of Israel
then took up a collection among all his soldiers,
amounting to two thousand silver drachmas,
which he sent to Jerusalem
to provide for an expiatory sacrifice.
In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way,
inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view;
for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again,
it would have been useless and foolish
to pray for them in death.
But if he did this
with a view to the splendid reward
that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness,
it was a holy and pious thought.
Thus he made atonement for the dead
that they might be freed from this sin.
This passage is part of the theological justification for praying for the dead, and is valued among Catholics, especially those traditionally-minded. As such, these verses are more of an “instruction” or a comfort to the grieving. Do loved ones need the encouragement to pray for the deceased? This would be a good choice. Do they want traditional Catholic teaching on purgatory reinforced? This passage is associated with that doctrine.
I don’t find people choose this reading very often at all. I struggle to remember one instance in twenty-plus years of ministry. Any comments on this Scripture or on the use of this for a funeral? Have you heard it recently?