22 November. Wednesday, Week 33
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.
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 Maccabees reading is the strongest Old Testament statement of belief in the afterlife. It reflects the piety of the group which later became the Pharisees, a group opposed to the rigid conservatism of the Jerusalem priesthood and who expected the resurrection of the dead. This belief did not evolve from scholarly debate, but from radical trust in God's fidelity and perhaps also from contact with foreigners, like the Greeks, where belief in the afterlife was already well established.
The faith of the Maccabean mother rested on her solid conviction that God's fidelity to her and her seven children would endure beyond the barrier of death and the tomb. In a vibrant declaration, the mother linked her faith in God, creator of the universe, with trust in God's ultimate justice. Creation, pregnancy and rebirth are linked together in her mind. The living God loves his creation with the same concern as a mother has for a child in her womb, and this divine love embraces faithful people even through persecution and death, leading to a new resurrection.
In today's parable , Jesus may be referring to how Herod the Great had fled for his life from Jerusalem, made his way to Rome and got support from the emperor Augustus, and then returned to take over as king of Israel. The parable warns us that the king will return, and therefore people must be prudent, industrious and honest, for one day we will be called to answer for our use of our talents. "Use it or lose it" is a phrase that applies to every human ability. We can paraphrase Jesus' words as, Whoever puts a talent to the service of others will be given more; but whoever has nothing that he is willing to share will lose the little that he has.
The parable we have just heard tries to counteract the expectation that the full coming of God's kingdom was imminent. They were preoccupied about the future; Jesus directs their attention to the present. The parable speaks of a man of noble birth who went abroad to a far country and who would eventually return as king. However, his servants' attention should not be on the day of his return but on using the resources he had given them in the here and now.
Too much concern about the future can distract us from the present. What matters is the generous and courageous use of the gifts and resources the Lord has given us for the service of others here and now. This is the approach to life the Lord is encouraging. The servant who put his pound away safely out of fear is the antithesis of this approach to life. In our use of our gifts and resources we may fail and make mistakes, but the parable suggests that failure is preferable to fearful inactivity. [MH]