Today's first reading at Mass comes from 2 Maccabees. It happens to be one of my most favorite Old Testament stories. Two things stand out in my mind: 1) It is nice hear an OT selection of this length. Oftentimes, the first reading is condensed down to a small selection, but today you get to hear the entire story; 2) I would imagine that those earlier Christians who heard this story of Eleazar were fortified in their faith, certainly during times of persecution. While there are some Christians who don't accept the canonicity of 2 Maccabees, we can all agree that Eleazar's steadfast faith is to be greatly commended.
Here is the entire reading, from the NAB:
2 Mc 6:18-31
Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes,a man of advanced age and noble appearance,was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement,he spat out the meat,and went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture,as people ought to do who have the courage to reject the food which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life. Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately,because of their long acquaintance with him,and urged him to bring meat of his own providing,such as he could legitimately eat,and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice prescribed by the king;in this way he would escape the death penalty,and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him.But Eleazar made up his mind in a noble manner,worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age,the merited distinction of his gray hair,and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood;and so he declared that above allhe would be loyal to the holy laws given by God.
He told them to send him at once to the abode of the dead, explaining:“At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense;many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazarhad gone over to an alien religion.Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life,they would be led astray by me,while I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age.Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men,I shall never, whether alive or dead,escape the hands of the Almighty.Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age,and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.”
Eleazar spoke thus,and went immediately to the instrument of torture.Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed,now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness.When he was about to die under the blows,he groaned and said:“The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that,although I could have escaped death,I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging,but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.”This is how he died,leaving in his death a model of courage and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.
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