The Faith Of Our Fathers
The priest and leader Matthatias turns down the honours and power promised him if he renounces his faith and offers sacrifice in honour of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria. He starts the open revolt of the Jewish people, a revolt that is both religious and political.
Luke wrote his Gospel when the Temple had already been destroyed. How come that the Jewish people, God’s own, who had been so zealous to fight for loyalty to the God of the covenant, did not recognize Christ, the expected one? It is not up to us to condemn, as Christians have often done in the past. With Jesus, we weep over the city and its people and pray and work that Jews too, may find their Messiah. And in the meantime, let us too, know the paths of peace of God’s people, and recognize the time the Lord visits us.
1 Reading: 1 Maccabees 2:15-29
The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to organize the sacrifices. Many of Israel joined them, but Mattathias and his sons gathered in a group apart. Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias: “You are a leader, an honourable and great man in this city, supported by sons and kin. Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends, and shall be enriched with silver and gold and many gifts.” But Mattathias answered in a loud voice: “Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him, so that each forsakes the religion of his fathers and consents to the king’s orders, yet I and my sons and my kin will keep to the covenant of our fathers. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments. We will not obey the words of the king nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree.” As he finished saying these words, a certain Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein according to the king’s order. When Mattathias saw him, he was filled with zeal; his heart was moved and his just fury was aroused; he sprang forward and killed him upon the altar. At the same time, he also killed the messenger of the king who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he showed his zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did with Zimri, son of Salu. Then Mattathias went through the city shouting, “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and who stands by the covenant follow after me!” Thereupon he fled to the mountains with his sons, leaving behind in the city all their possessions. Many who sought to live according to righteousness and religious custom went out into the desert to settle there.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 50:1b-2, 5-6, 14-15
R.(23b) To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
God the LORD has spoken and summoned the earth,
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth. R.
“Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his justice;
for God himself is the judge. R.
“Offer to God praise as your sacrifice
and fulfill your vows to the Most High;
Then call upon me in time of distress;
I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.” R.
Alleluia: Psalm 95:8
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
If today you hear his voice,
harden not your hearts.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Luke 19:41-44
As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
The religious zeal of the Maccabees accounts for the narrative of their accomplishments found in the biblical books that carry their name. The pagan sacrifices offered in the city of Modein illustrate well the strong religious convictions of Mattathias and his sons. They refuse to participate in the pagan rites. In reaction to this idolatry, Mattathias kills a compromising Jew as well as the king’s messenger. Then he and his sons flee into the mountainous country.
Many people in our time resent acts of killing such as those inflicted by Mattathias and his sons. That is because tire Christian conscience has matured in appreciation of nonviolence. This is the teaching of Jesus, but it must be remembered that Old Testament personalities did not enjoy that insight and believed that perpetrators of evil deserved the dire fruits of their action. Our opposition to violence arises from the response of Jesus, as well as the extent of war and killing in our own age.
Jerusalem, the holy city, was close to Jesus’ heart, but it failed to recognize the time of its visitation. Jesus therefore predicts its end, which will come about in a few short decades. Religious privilege is no excuse for moral failure. From those to whom much has been given, much will be asked. As we cherish our faith, let us never take it for granted.
We are asked to recognize the coming of the Lord not in a long ago past but now, today, in our lives and our communities. May God give you this grace and bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!