by: Chibuzor F. Ogamba
‘Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his fathers, and that he would take him for his friend and entrust him with public affairs’ 2 Maccabees 7:24
I beg you my child, do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy, I may get you back again with your brothers. cf 2 Maccabess 7:29
‘Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life’ Hebrews 11:35
Dearest friends in Christ, some of the above passages are from the readings which the Church presents to us today. Actually, there are so many things which I would like to pour out from my heart, but I actually do not know where to start. But I strongly do not know if you would fully understand anything I am going to write here today, if you have not read 2 Maccabees 7. Some of you my dear readers, might be non-catholics and do not consider Maccabees as inspired word of God, but whether you do or not, the fact is that the time of the Hasmanean or Maccabean dynasty and the reign of king Antiochus Epiphanes once was in the history of the Jews. And this was shortly before the Romans conquered the Jews, about a century before Our Lord was born. However, I will go straight to the main reason why I set out to write this reflection.
Epiphanes was a title this king gave himself, and it is from the word, Epiphanea, which means to appear, to show, or to reveal. Orthodox Christians will reckon with this word, especially Catholics, as we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord early in the year. And so, Antiochus gave himself this name because he believed and wanted the people to believe that he is God, in appearance, he is the revealed one, in a sense, who demands all the authority and respect and honour. He wanted the Jews therefore to give up their faith and the laws of God that they practiced, unless he tortured and killed them. The story of this Mother and her 7 sons is just one of the many times Jews were tortured for not yielding to his decrees. Earlier in the book of Maccabees, we hear of a Jewish man in his old age, who was also in the same position as these 7 sons and their Mother. This Jewish man was even offered a way out by his executioners, to pretend he was eating pork, which was forbidden, while eating another meat, so that his life will be spared. But for the dignity of his life and for the example which he wanted to live to the younger ones, to be faithful, but not only that, for the fact that, he believed that the few years he was going to gain from being spared from death was nothing compared to the eternity God was going to reward him with.
It would marvel us, therefore, to notice that throughout the history of the Jews, they have been in circumstances where they have had to choose between God and some other option, either an idol or a king. It seems as if that is the whole dilemma that surrounds their relationship with God. This is actually the ultimate drama of our relationship with God, each and every one of us. Like Daniel and the three young men, Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are always faced with choices, moments when we either choose God or decide against him, moments when we either stand with him or against him. And then, we find that the Bible always presents to us the situations of both weak and valiant men that we might learn from them. Our situations might not be exactly heroic as the ones presented to us, but even the slightest of situations, a choice to just say yes or no, carry also the same demand, the same expectation from us, who would we choose?
But my brothers and sisters, there is something else also in these choices. Man is always ready to trust people when they make oaths and promises to them. Somehow, it is our character to believe in another and forfeit our own ideas or principles, to trust another, when the person has made an oath, or a promise. This, in itself is not bad, but we should always consider who it is, is making the oath, and who it is we are letting down in order to give in to someone else who has made an oath to us. In fact, our principles need to be highly considered, where do our values lie? Yes, for the devil to get a hold on us, he has to tempt us, and in doing so, he promises us a lot of things, he makes oaths to us, that he would give us a lot of things, that we would enjoy so much, and most of the time we give in without considering who it is, is making that oath, and whether he is faithful enough to deliver, also, who it is, we are letting down when we give in to this oath.
Myriads of examples have shown us, that trusting the devil’s oaths, and promises, is useless, for he is not faithful. Faithfulness is a good quality, but when someone is 100 percent pure evil, there is definitely no atom of good in him. This is why we refer to him as the evil one. We see this clearly in the temptation and fall of our first parents. You will be like God. he doesn’t want you to be like him. He is a stern man, who just wants you to be his slave. And then, our first parents gave in, they wanted to be like God, and felt they could do that without God. they trusted someone who was unfaithful, and betrayed one who In himself has the ability to be faithful to his promises. And are we not like our first parents today? Of course. We give in to temptations of the world, our friends, and ultimately the devil, when we reject the way of God, conjecture all types of reasons to justify our actions, just like the man in the parable of today’s gospel, Luke 19:11-28, sir, I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man, and then we move along trusting the unfaithful, and yet looking for that, which only the faithful one can give us.
Nevertheless, we are presented with the example of this youngest son, who yet with all the dreams and aspirations a young boy can have, all the pleasure and accomplishment promised him by Antiochus Epiphanes, chose to be for the lord, and the love of God’s laws, rejecting all that and choosing to die not just for the love of God’s laws, but for the Love of God, for why would he sacrifice his life for the laws of somebody he does not love? Who he does not have faith in? This is why the writer of Hebrews eulogises them. Antiochus made an oath, but the youngest son considered, not the oath, but who it was that was making it, and saw how unfaithful and weak he was, the youngest son considered who he would have let down and saw, a God he loves, a God who loves him, and a God that is always faithful to his promises.
Has a King, a popular leader, a famous celebrity, somebody revered and worshipped by all taken an oath just for you? And when that happens, will God be the alternative forgone? Will you be quick to trust in him, for he had made an oath to you, or will you like this youngest son, trust in God, who has also made an oath not just to you, but to your fathers and forefathers in the faith? When that time comes, who will you choose? It might not a person; it might be a something, which would make that oath, then, not by talking, but by its beauty, its appearance, its use, and its acceptance. When that time comes will you remember, that there is such an oath which should not be trusted?