The first reading at Mass yesterday (2 Maccabee 7:1, 20 – 31) is one of the most amazing accounts in the Bible. This is from the NAB translation, which is the standard for Mass in English-speaking regions. Read this carefully – it kind of sneaks up on you and before you know it the mother blazes a path towards heaven, at home in territory that is almost incomprehensible.
In any case, here goes:
It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord. Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words:
“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 orderthe 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.”
Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words, thought he was being ridiculed. As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath,to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs:he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office. When the youth paid no attention to him at all,the king appealed to the mother,urging her to advise her boy to save his life. After he had urged her for a long time,she went through the motions of persuading her son. In derision of the cruel tyrant, she leaned over close to her son and said in their native language:
“Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. 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; and in the same way the human race 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 them.”
She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our fathers through Moses. But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God.”
Are you kidding me??!?!?!? The level of courage and faith in God is nearly incomprehensible, yet there it is … and points to Jesus’ own mother (the Maccabean mother is a type of Mary).
Courage. Resolute faith. Action.
Mother of the Maccabean Martyrs, please pray for us!