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 and said 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 cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: "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 desert to live there.
The God of gods, the Lord,
has spoken and summoned the earth,
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion's perfect beauty he shines. (R./)
'Summon before me my people
who made covenant with me by sacrifice.'
The heavens proclaim his justice,
for he, God, is the judge. (R./)
'Pay your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God
and render him your votive offerings.
Call on me in the day of distress.
I will free you and you shall honour me.' (R./)
As Jesus 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."
Not surprisingly, struggle and warnings mark the readings for the final two weeks of the Church year. In the Book of Maccabees, from which our readings come, victory comes only after a severe struggle. The fidelity of Mattathias and his seven sons left an ideal of heroic resistance in Israel. The old man would not succumb to bribery or fear, "We will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments."
We need not debate the subsequent violent deeds of Mattathias in resisting the oppressor. It can be defended as a just war against foreign agression. A more immediate challenge faced by our generation is to learn to live more sustainably in our world. Unless we, and especially in the West, curb our insatiable use of fossil fuel and simplify our lifestyle, humanity could easily come to war about resources. This sets us before hard choices, and we must learn from the decisiveness of Mattathias and his family. Choices are not simple or easy. Thinking about impending climate change reminds us of Jesus as he grieved over Jerusalem, full of great sorrow and love.
Jesus cried tears of sorrow because Jerusalem did not receive him, and did not recognize the decisive choice it needed to make. The inhabitants had to live with the consequences of rejecting the Gospel. His grief was about a love that has been rejected. Jesus came to reveal God's hospitable love for all of humanity, but many rejected their messenger of good news. Jesus could not force himself on people; when rejected, he could only move on. He came to seek and to save the lost, but we need to be open and responsive to his love. He walks with us and wants to bond with us, but we need to admit our need of him. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we pray, "Stay with us, Lord."