It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh.
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman's reasoning with a man's courage, and said to them, "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws."
Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still 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 ancestors, and that he would take him for his Friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: "My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things hat existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. 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 along with your brothers."
While she was still speaking, the young man said, "What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God.
Lord, hear a cause that is just,
pay heed to my cry.
Turn your ear to my prayer:
no deceit is on my lips. (R./)
I kept my feet firmly in your paths;
there was no faltering in my steps.
I am here and I call, you will hear me, O God.
Turn your ear to me; hear my words. (R./)
Guard me as the apple of your eye.
Hide me in the shadow of your wings.
As for me, in my justice I shall see your face
and be filled, when I awake, with the sight of your glory. (R./)
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, "A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, 'Do business with these until I come back.' But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to rule over us.'
When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, 'Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.' He said to him, 'Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.' Then the second came, saying, 'Lord, your pound has made five pounds.' He said to him, 'And you, rule over five cities.' Then the other came, saying, 'Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.' He said to him, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.' He said to the bystanders, 'Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.' (And they said to him, 'Lord, he has ten pounds!') 'I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'"
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
This text from Maccabees is the most explicit statement of belief in the afterlife in all the Old Testament. It reflects the piety of the dissident group which later evolved into the Pharisees, who opposed to the rigid conservatism of the Jerusalem priesthood and who hoped for the resurrection of the dead. This belief did not evolve from reflection and scholarship, but from radical trust in God's fidelity as they saw some of their friends martyred rather than abandon their religion. It was a belief also influenced by contact with other peoples, like the Greeks, whose belief in the afterlife was well established.
The Maccabean mother believed that God's fidelity to her and her seven children would bring them eternal life. In the face of execution, she made her vibrant declaration of faith in God, creator of the universe, and trusted in God's ultimate justice. Creation, pregnancy, death and rebirth are linked together in her mind. The living God loves his creatures with the same concern as a mother has for a child in her womb, and this divine love embraces faithful people even through the shadow of death.
In his parable of the talents, Jesus may be referring to how as a young man Herod the Great had fled for his life from Jerusalem, made his way to Rome and charmed the emperor Augustus into supporting him, and then returned to take over as king of Israel. Because the king will return to take his throne, we must be industrious and honest, for we must answer for our use of our talents. "Use them or lose them" applies to every human ability. Jesus taught that, Whoever uses their talents for the service of others will be given more; but those who share nothing with others will lose the little they have.
The Gospel parable counterbalances any expectation that the coming of God's kingdom was imminent. They were too worried for the future, so Jesus directed them to the present. He told of a man of noble birth who went abroad for some years, but would eventually return as king. Instead of wondering when he would return his servants should be busily using the capital he had left them, to make a profit here and now.
Too much thought of the future can distract from the present. What matters is that we courageously use the resources the Lord has given us for the service of others, here and now. The servant who nervously hid his money safely had the wrong approach to life. In using our resources we may sometimes make mistakes, but Jesus sees efforts that fail as preferable to fearful inactivity.