All this week our first readings at Mass are from the First and Second Books of Maccabees which describe the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes, one of the successors of Alexander the Great. The revolt took place over a hundred years before the time of Jesus and it’s behind the Jewish Feast of Hannukah, which recalls the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus after its profanation by foreign invaders.
The revolt also explains why the times of Jesus were so politically sensitive. As he headed towards Jerusalem, some “thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” (Luke 19,11) Perhaps it would be brought about by an armed uprising, like that against Antiochus Epiphanes?
Our selections this week from the Books of Maccabees, though, center more on two older Jews from the earlier Jewish revolt: Eleazar, an older scribe, who was among the prominent Jews pressured to give up his Jewish ways and assimilate to the larger Hellenistic culture, and a mother who inspired her seven sons to resist the invaders.
All Eleazar had to do was to pretend to eat the meat of sacrifice, but the ninety-year old chose to die rather than go over to an alien religion and give bad example to the young.
“I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” (2 Maccabees 6. 30-31)
The mother, seized with her seven sons, saw them tortured and put to death. Still,she urged them strongly to keep their faith and persevere.
“I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.” (2 Maccabees 7,1, 21-31)
Pope Francis in his comments on these readings this week said the two older people remind us how powerful the wisdom and influence of the elderly is. Today we don’t pay enough attention to the gifts we have in them.