This week our first readings at Mass are from the First and Second Books of Maccabees commemorating the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes, successor to Alexander the Great. The revolt led to the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus after its profanation by foreign invaders. The Jewish Feast of Hannukah recalls the event. (Thursday) The revolt took place over a hundred years before the time of Jesus.
The Maccabean revolt is one reason why the times of Jesus were so politically sensitive. On his journey to Jerusalem, some “thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” (Luke 19,11) A number of his disciple probably thought that would happen by an armed uprising against the Romans, like the revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes.
Our readings this week, however, are not battle accounts from the uprising but rather stories of two elderly faithful Jews: Eleazar, a scribe who refused to assimilate to the culture of the conquerors, and a mother who inspired her seven sons to resist the invaders. (Tuesday and Wednesday)
All Eleazar had to do was pretend to eat the meat of sacrifice, but the ninety-year old chose to die rather than 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 Jewish mother, seized with her seven son and witness to their torture and death, urged them 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 often speaks of the wisdom and influence of the elderly. We rely on them. Maybe now more than ever.