At the end of the church year, we read from the end of the history of the Old Covenant, the books of the Maccabees.*
Not easy to read. To imagine the suffering of so many innocent people, especially a gentle old man and an aging mother.
Anybody remember how it all came to pass? Who took over the Holy Land when he conquered the Persian empire? Alexander the Great, who came from…Greece.
Alexander left his empire to his generals. The great-great-great-grandson of one of his generals demanded that the Jewish people abandon the religion.
The Greek authorities tried to break the peoples’ spirit by forcing them to eat unclean meat. Everybody in the world knew that the Jews did not eat pork, because the Law of Moses prohibited it. So the authorities ordered the most prominent Jews to eat pork, on pain of death.
Now, we might reasonably ask: Why would anyone try to force someone to eat anything in particular? (other than your parents, trying to get you to eat your vegetables) If I force you to eat pork, or sushi, or cheese whiz, or any food, what good does that do me? Doesn’t make any sense.
Except: There is one way that we can understand it, one way that we can even relate. When people do wrong, as a group, and they want everyone to accept their wrongdoing as if it were normal, they will do violence just to force people to go along with it. They will do violence even to the people quietly minding their own business, trying to do the right thing, trying to do God’s will.
The faithful Jewish martyrs we read about at Holy Mass never picked a fight. They sought the Lord, hoping in the promises of the prophets. When the new Greek rules came along, they simply refused to do something they knew was wrong.
The faithful Jews willingly paid the ultimate price, rather than commit a sin. May the Lord give us clarity and strength like that.
I Maccabees stands in relation to II Maccabees not as I Kings stands in relation to II Kings, but rather as I Kings stands in relation to I Chronicles. 🙂
Also: Happy 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address!