17 Nov, Thursday of Week 33
1 Macc 2:15ff. Mattathias and his seven sons begin the Maccabee revolt against foreign oppression and stem the tide of apostasy.
Lk 19:41ff. Jesus weeps over the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem.
Tested by Fire
Not surprisingly, tears and warnings mark the readings for the final two weeks of the Church year. In the Books of Maccabees and Revelation, from which our readings come, no victory comes easily; always there are tears – even in heaven. John, caught up in ecstasy on the island of Patmos, was grieving because no one seemed able to open the scroll with the seven seals, and at the appearance of Jesus, bearing the wounds of his passion. Throughout the Book of Revelation Jesus is the “Lamb that had been slain”, but also the triumphant one who leads his sheep to eternal life. In faith, he is seen as the one worthy to open the scroll… “for you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God people of every race and tongue… You made of them a kingdom, and priests to serve our God.”
How were we purchased? Not in the crass sense of a price paid to God, but because Jesus united himself so intimately with human flesh and blood that he became totally immersed in us – and we in him. His love and obedience, his death and resurrection became our family treasure, our inheritance. All God’s children were forgiven in him, for the Father saw us as intimately bonded with our elder brother, Jesus.
No wonder that only the Lamb who had been slain can open the scroll with the seven seals. Jesus has experienced to the fullest extent the trials and joys, the collapses and triumphs of our human existence. He alone knows their secret core, and can direct their development and lead us into the vision of heavenly joy. Through him, we all become “priests to serve our God,” that is, to turn each human experience into one of worship in God’s presence.
His was a fidelity like that of Mattathias and his seven sons. The old man would not succumb to bribery or fear, “I and my children and my kinsfolk will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments.” It is not for us to judge the subsequent military violence of Mattathias; we have never been in such desperate circumstances. But whatever severe trial may come upon us, we must muster his kind of decisiveness. Such moments are never simple or easy. As we anticipate such moments we must be prepared to stand with Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, for his tears were not only a sign of great sorrow, but equally they flowed from the great love in his heart.
First Reading: 1 Maccabees 2:15-29
The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honoured and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honoured with silver and gold and many gifts.”
But Mattathias answered in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”
When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri son of Salu.
Then Mattathias shouted in the town with a loud voice, “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!” Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town. At that time many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there.
Gospel: Luke 19:41-44
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”