“Do we live with this same hope? Do we have this proper perspective on eternity?”
“You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” The first reading for this Sunday is part of the stunning story of the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons we find in 2 Maccabees 7. We only hear part of the story, so I encourage you to take up Scripture and read the entire chapter.
The mother and her sons are brought in front of the king and ordered to disobey God’s law by eating pork. The first brother refuses, and speaking for the others, tells the king they would rather die. The king brutally tortures the son in front of his family and then kills him. One after another, the brothers are tortured in front of their mother and their brothers. Each one defies the king with strong language.
The mother watches each son suffer and die. She even encourages them as they prepare to face death. “I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought 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 Mc 7:22-23).
When it comes time for the seventh to make his choice, the king promises him riches and power. He tries to persuade him to eat the pork and spare his mother. When the boy won’t listen, the king asks the mother to speak to the boy. She leans over to the boy and tells him to have pity on her. What is about to happen? The world would assume she’s about to talk him out of a courageous stand.
To say that things seem bleak at this moment is an understatement. She has watched the skin be torn from her sons’ bodies and witnessed their tongues being cut out. She stood there while they were burned to death. Would we blame her if she wanted to spare one son? Is that too much to ask?
Yet she commands him, “I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things. In the same way humankind came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with your brothers” (2 Mc 7:28-29).
It is a shocking and moving testament to the resurrection. She knows she will receive her son back. It will not happen immediately, nor will it happen without suffering. She knows her sons were not created for this life alone. Her vocation as mother is to get these boys to heaven.
If she was to convince this boy to sin against the Lord for her sake, she would be sinning against her vocation as mother. Even her motherly love for them – a love that is the greatest love on this earth – pales in comparison to God’s love for these boys.
With his last breath the son told the king, “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.”
Do we live with this same hope? Do we have this proper perspective on eternity?
The Gospel on Sunday also reminds us about the reality of the resurrection. As important as this life seems, it is nothing compared to eternity. Are we living for eternity? Does the way we live each day – the decisions we make, the witness we make to others – show that we understand that this life is but a moment?
When you read the account in Maccabees, take time to really put yourself in their position. It seems that what is being asked of them is rather small. All they are asked to do is eat pork and maybe make a small sacrifice to a foreign god.
Are we ever in that same situation? You might think no, because sacrificing to gods seems dramatic. But have we ever been tempted to skip Mass on Sunday while on vacation? Perhaps we’ve eaten meat on Friday in Lent because we were with friends and didn’t want to stick out. Maybe we’ve rationalized watching movies or television programs that ridicule Christ and his Church. Or we’ve given money to organizations we know support things contrary to the Faith. Are we ever reluctant for people to know we’re Christian? Are we afraid to stand up for the teachings of the Church?
Many of these don’t seem like a big deal in the great scheme of things, right? Liking eating pork. What is the big deal? While the kosher laws might seem like no big deal to us, they gave the Jewish people their identity. They set them apart. They were outward manifestations of something interior: their identity as the people of God. Their obedience to the kosher laws, to keeping the Sabbath, and the ritual of circumcision were more than just obedience to little laws. It was fidelity to the laws given to them by God. These signs were recognition that they were created for something greater than this life.
The courageous Maccabean mother was reminding her sons that God is greater than anything we find here in this life. Fidelity to his law, to his promises, and to his love will be rewarded with true life. The comfort and pleasure of this life is fleeting. The sufferings and crosses of this life are worth what awaits us in heaven.
Live each day with an eye on eternity. Am I living for this life or for the next? Do I have a proper perspective on eternity – and live my life in a way that shows it? May we too have the courage to be faithful – in big ways, but also in the small ways – and live a life for heaven.
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