It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh.
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors.
Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, ‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.’
Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors, and that he would take him for his Friend and entrust him with public affairs.
Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: ‘My son, have pity on me. I carried you for nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you.
I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.’
While she was still speaking, the young man said, ‘What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Temptations. They come in so many forms. I still remember when a high school classmate offered to pay me to write his term paper. I really needed the money, but I knew I had to say no.
Today’s Gospel parable (Lk 19:11-28) reminds us that if we’re not faithful in little things, it’s tough to do what’s right when faced with the bigger stuff. Our story from Maccabees shows us the extreme – there’s nothing bigger than facing death for our beliefs.
But this family is faithful in big and little ways. They follow the smaller details of the law, but also understand who it is that gives them “both breath and life.”
Temptations can be tough, but we can trust – as this exemplary woman in today’s reading does – that the merciful God who set everything in order will save us in the end. We don’t have to be afraid.
—Rita Zyber is RCIA and Confirmation Coordinator at St. Mary Student Parish at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.
O God, give me the courage and strength to be worthy of being called a Christian.
—Karl Rahner, SJ