As we enter the last two weeks of the liturgical year, we turn to two books from the Scriptures which are either in whole or in part not part of the Hebrew or Protestant Bible. These works or parts of them were excluded because the manuscripts are not written in Hebrew but in Greek. The stories they contain, however, are some of the most well-known and revered stories, even among the Jews. In the Books of Maccabees, we read of the struggle of the faithful children of Israel during the reign of King Antiochus Epiphanes is the foundation for the Jewish festival known as Hanakkuh.
The early Scriptures of the Israelites seemed to delight in the fact that God had chosen them and set them apart from other nations. We are told in the Torah that they were, in the eyes of God, peculiarly God's own people, a special race of men and women. Interestingly enough, the opening words of the First Book of Maccabees contains the very opposite notion. They didn't want to be different than other people. They wanted to blend in. They abandoned their ancestral heritage and the customs that set them apart.
Being different is never easy. This particular idea applies to body type and size, personality, and physical beauty as well as to behavior. Differences tend to isolate us from others. It is far more attractive to be part of the "in" crowd. This is evident from the earliest moments of childhood and it persists throughout adulthood. Resisting the temptation to blend in takes great strength of character and a very strong ego. Today's Gospel passage about the blind man who encounters Jesus as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem displays this very potently. If the blind man had done as the "in" crowd demanded, he would have lost the opportunity to regain his sight.
We all face the danger of "blending in." If we obey the laws of God and reject the mores or our society, we will stand out and will face the ridicule of the "in" crowd. If we fail to stand up in the face of wrongdoing, we will miss the opportunity to witness to the truth of the Gospel. More dangerous, however, is the temptation to begin to act like those who have rejected the narrow way to God.
As we read about the struggles of the nation of Israel during the reign of King Antiochus Epiphanes, we have a chance to ask ourselves about our own desire to fit in. Just how far have we gone to blend in? We often comment that there are no two snowflakes that are alike, no two leaves on a tree that are similar. The same can be said of us. No one is exactly like me. No one is exactly like you. God made you to be distinct, to be different, to be a unique gift to the world. God wants us to be the person we were created to be.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator