23 November. Thursday, Week 33
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.
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.
We read about the fidelity of Mattathias and his seven sons. The old man would not succumb to bribery or fear, "I and my children and my kinsfolk will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments." It is not for us to judge the subsequent military violence of Mattathias; we have never been in such desperate circumstances. A major challenge for us and our generation is to learn to live in a more sustainable way on this earth. Unless we, and especially the more developed countries – learn to curb our insatiable use of fossil fuel, and simplify our lifestyle, the world may soon find itself in a heightened state of war about resources. This sets us before hard choices, and we must find the kind of decisiveness shown by Mattathias and his family. Such moments are never simple or easy. As we anticipate such moments we must be prepared to stand with Jesus as he grieved over Jerusalem, for his tears were not only a sign of great sorrow, but equally they flowed from the great love in his heart.
Luke presents Jesus in a very emotional state in today's gospel, weeping because the city of Jerusalem did not receive him, and did not recognize that in Jesus God was visiting them. The city will now have to live with the consequences of rejecting Jesus. The tears of Jesus are the tears of a love that has been rejected. Jesus came to reveal and make present God's hospitable love for all, but many rejected God's messenger of good news.
There is a sense in which Jesus, and God who sent him, was helpless before such rejection. All Jesus can do is weep at human intransigence. Jesus cannot force himself on people; when rejected, he can only move on. He has come to seek and to save the lost, but the lost, and that includes us all, have to be open and responsive to his searching love. He walks with us and wants to enter into communion with us, but, every so often, he needs us to say to him, in the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." [MH]