Today's first reading comes to us from the Second Book of Maccabees. The Books of Maccabees do not appear in the Jewish Bible or Old Testament. Consequently, they also don't appear in Protestant Bibles. They are among the books that are labeled apocryphal (by Protestant Christians) or deutero-canonical (by Orthodox Christians), but they are accepted writings for those who are Roman Catholics. We will be reading from these two books for the last two weeks of the liturgical calendar.
Though the Second Book of Maccabees might mistakenly be regarded as a sequel to the First Book, the two volumes actually cover the same time period and may have been written by two different sacred authors. They chronicle the oppression of the Jewish people under the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes. The name "Maccabeus" means "hammer" and is applied to the leader of the resistance, Judas Maccabeus.
The stories seem to indicate that the King was attempting to bring all of the peoples who were subject to him into a unified religion. Consequently, he tried to suppress those customs or practices that set people apart reasoning that such differences would ultimately do harm to society. So the stories of these books involve people who were tortured and killed for refusing to break the dietary rules of Judaism, for refusing to burn incense to idols, etc. Today's story involves an elderly gentleman who refuses to eat pork and is, consequently, scourged to death. Rather than concentrating of the details of his torture, the reading actually spends more time outlining his reasoning. Though he could have feigned willingness to eat pork, he chose instead to refuse it altogether lest he give scandal to the young people of his community.
These stories seem to take on an even greater significance at the present time when our religious freedom is being tested by our governments, local, state and federal. Accommodation and acceptance of such laws will ultimately weaken the fabric of our society. The example of Eleazar stands as a powerful reminder of the need to stand firm in our traditions and the tenets of our faith.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator