As I read the first reading at our Morning Prayer service people reacted aloud with gasps. It is rare for that to happen. I want to share, with brief comments, some verses and conclude with a brief refection.
The king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king.
The desire for 'tolerance' today has echoes of this command from the king. The question, "Can't we all get along?" has an answer. "No" No we cannot just all get along because we have diverse beliefs. Compromise is not always possible. We disagree about things. Civil Religion aims to mold people into a more coherent group. True believers cling to "their particular customs" and do not conform...
Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion...sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath... There is no indication of the thought processes of the ancient Jews, but contemporary folks of a like mind seem to say that they are trying to be reasonable and are "not a Fundamentalist." They probably thought that God would understand. After all the king said "whoever does not obey the the command of the king shall die." In the end, the "tolerance police" in the "Department of Diversity and Anti-Particularity" have to keep the peace and in those who are not on board need to be eradicated. So a "desolating sacrilege" was set up on the altar of sacrifice in the Jewish Temple (and note Jesus makes use of this same term in His end times discourse). If you are too Jewish everyone won't feel welcome so got to get rid of that idiosyncratic Jewish worship! Books of the Law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. (Which is why ancient manuscripts are so hard to come by!) And then the verse which produced the moans:
According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from the mothers' necks.
I can never, ever, discuss circumcision and New Testament Jewish-Christian debates on the subject without that image in my head. I cannot imagine anything worse for a mother. I cannot. And to write off Jewish practices (as many Christians do) so flippantly as works righteousness or self salvation seems arrogant and ignorant and unfair. Would Jesus have told those women, in the face of such suffering, "you messed up"? Maybe the sell outs were actually right, but I doubt it. Maybe the Jewish martyrs, some no more than a week old, were fools who do not understand Gospel and grace, but again I doubt it. God's grace is an idea found throughout the Jewish Bible.They got it. They believed it. They trusted God. They were faithfilled and faithful--not like we are, but just as authentically.
They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant and they did die.
They did die.
Just like Jesus.... and James.... and Stephen.... and Peter... and Paul
and based on current trajectories perhaps you and I.
not for food but for the holy covenant and our particular customs as servants of Jesus.
The debates about Jewish faith and Christian faith are best when they include genuine insight into each other. I think Maccabees adds much of value to those debates. I a a Christian, but I follow Jesus with a love for Judaism and a respect for Jews. And a realization that I feel tied to their martyrs, whether they would feel the same way or not.