If you’re not a Catholic, then you probably have never heard or read this story. It comes from the second book of Maccabees. Why 1st or 2nd Maccabees are not in a Protestant Bible is for a whole other day. The short answer is, Martin Luther said they and along with five other books weren’t scripture. They have always been in the Bible, they weren’t “added” as some think or have been told.
Anyhow, today’s first reading came from 2nd Maccabees chapter 7: 1, 20-31. For the most part it’s abbreviated for the sake of time and repetition (I think). But doing so is really a disjustice to this wonderful yet heart wrenching story of faith. So I decided to include the whole thing in today’s reflection.
Before you read the text, a little background may be in order. 1st Maccabees is written during a period of time of about 200-150 years before the New Testament. Greece has invaded and settled Judea. They have enacted laws and customs to try and force the Jews to accept and assimilate Greek law and custom. This includes violating the laws and commandments of God that He gave through Moses. The greeks are going through the cities and towns looking for those who refuse to abide by Greek law and custom; looking for those who obey God and refuse to apostatize.
2nd Maccabees 7
It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.
One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” At that the king, in a fury, gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated.
These were quickly heated, and he gave the order to cut out the tongue of the one who had spoken for the others, to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of his brothers and his mother looked on.
When he was completely maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to carry him to the fire and fry him. As a cloud of smoke spread from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, with these words:
“The Lord God is looking on and truly has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song, when he openly bore witness, saying, ‘And God will have compassion on his servants.’”
After the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?”
Answering in the language of his ancestors, he said, “Never!” So he in turn suffered the same tortures as the first. With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.”
After him the third suffered their cruel sport. He put forth his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely stretched out his hands, as he spoke these noble words: “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disregard them; from him I hope to receive them again.”
Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s spirit, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way. When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of mortals with the hope that God will restore me to life; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
They next brought forward the fifth brother and maltreated him. Looking at the king, he said:d “Mortal though you are, you have power over human beings, so you do what you please. But do not think that our nation is forsaken by God. Only wait, and you will see how his great power will torment you and your descendants.”
After him they brought the sixth brother. When he was about to die, he said: “Have no vain illusions. We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such shocking things have happened
Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.”
Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother who, seeing her seven sons perish in a single day, bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.
Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly reason with manly emotion, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words: “I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought 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.”
Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words, thought he was being ridiculed. As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office.
When the youth paid no attention to him at all, the king appealed to the mother, urging her to advise her boy to save his life. After he had urged her for a long time, she agreed to persuade her son. She leaned over close to him and, in derision of the cruel tyrant, said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things. In the same way humankind came into existence.
Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with your brothers.”
She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What is the delay? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived every kind of evil for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God. We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins. Though for a little while our living Lord has been angry, correcting and chastising us, he will again be reconciled with his servants. But you, wretch, most vile of mortals, do not, in your insolence, buoy yourself up with unfounded hopes, as you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty and all-seeing God. Our brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant. But you, by the judgment of God, shall receive just punishments for your arrogance. Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God. Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
At that, the king became enraged and treated him even worse than the others, since he bitterly resented the boy’s contempt.
Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the Lord.
Last of all, after her sons, the mother was put to death.
Enough has been said about the sacrificial meals and the excessive cruelties.
Who of you would be the mother? Could you, would you watch your children be tortured for their faith? Here in the United States, it’s easy for us to say that wouldn’t happen here. Perhaps not. However, there are places in the world that today, things like this are happening to Christians. A simple Google search of Christian persecution by ISIS is all you need to do. I won’t go into detail, but the methods of execution of these people in the 21st century is truly as gruesome as the first century.
Here in the United States, evil takes on a different form. For faithful Christian believers who do not want to do something because of their religious beliefs, they are persecuted in a different way. They are accused of being homophobic, racist, bigots, old-fashioned etc. They are the targets of financial consequences. They are sued, fined, and boycotted because they refuse to participate in something contrary to God’s word. They lose everything, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
So i ask you this yet again. Who of you would be the mother, or the father in today’s passage? Would you be willing to watch your children tortured physically because you refuse to turn your back on God? Or to paint it another way, are you willing to lose everything you have, everything you own, even your good name, to be a part of something sinful? Are you willing to put you and your kids out on the street?
To assent to something, is to participate in it, and to participate in something without duress is to assent to it. How far are you willing to go for the Kingdom of God? They say there’s nothing harder than a parent who loses a child. I wouldn’t know (thanks be to God). But I know those who have. The ones who handle it the best day after day have a faith like no other. My wife and I have actually had this conversation before and both have agreed that if we would ever be put in this situation as this mother, we would be this mother. The eternal reward far outweighs earthly treasure.
Thought for the day: Am I the mother? Or, am I the King?