DAY 282: 1 Maccabees 1; Sirach 1-3; Proverbs 21: 29-31
LAST STOP BEFORE THE NEW TESTAMENT
Today we enter the final period of the Old Testament: “Maccabean Revolt.” This is about 150 years before Christ (and 30 days for us in the Bible in a Year!) I’ll be honest, I’m looking forward to listening to Jeff Cavins and Fr Mike talking about this tomorrow in their introduction to this period, because it’s one that wasn’t well covered in our Old Testament classes in Seminary – and First and Second Maccabees can get a bit confusing. Being the most recent of Hebrew Scriptures there’s a lot of historical narratives and historical/political names that will be a bit more familiar to our fellow biblical pilgrims. And some similar themes we’ve encountered up till now will re-emerge, this time with the enemies of God’s people being Greek empires.
Why it’s important is because it really helps set up a lot of the factions and divisions internally and externally for the Jews at the time of Jesus. A lot of the geo-political realities that existed at the time of Jesus as well as expectations of the Jewish people for what the Messiah would accomplish are found in these chapters.
The Book of Sirach is a part of the “Wisdom literature” genre of the Old Testament, this book written about 200 years before Christ. Written almost sounding as a father giving advice to his son, it will be similar to Proverbs with a lot of it being short sayings addressing a wide variety of topics from money, relationships to table manners.
As Fr Mike mentioned in the podcast, these are probably some of the most “foreign” scriptures to even the most well-read Catholics, so I’m looking forward to go through what I hope will be an interesting experience for all of us.
DAY 283: 1 Maccabees 2; Sirach 4-6; Proverbs 22: 1-4
“NONE WHO PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM WILL LACK STRENGTH”
In recent years, the number of people who are discouraged, lost faith in everyone and everything seems to be increasing. We see that in polls whether they are evaluating secular or religious issues. For the latter, the most common cited statistic is the number individuals categorizing themselves as “none” – meaning claiming no religious affiliation.
We don’t need to go through the litany of reasons why this is the case. In fact it’s probably unhelpful to do so. The mixture of justified angers coupled with the devil running amuck exploiting these failures is well known and understandably dispirits people just to revisit.
Instead, in our reading from Maccabees today we hear from Mattathias at the end of his life giving a pep talk to his descendants. Here they are in the midst of (yet another) difficult time and what does he do? He runs through a history not of the setbacks, the failures, how far they had as a people fallen from their “glory days.” He instead recounts the faithful history of the Chosen people – those who honored the commandments, those who were zealous for the Lord, those who remained steadfast. As he revisits generation upon generation being faithful, he reaffirms that central truth: None who put their trust in Him will lack strength…. My Children be courageous and grow strong in the law for by it you will gain honor.” (1 Maccabees 2: 61, 64)
Choosing to despair, being discouraged is actually a pretty easy thing to do. It also leads us down that vicious cycle of desolation. While choosing to be faithful, being obedient, remembering the promises isn’t easy, it pumps the spiritual muscles to produce what is often in short supply in the world: Hope.
DAY 284: 1 Maccabees 3; Sirach 7-9; Proverbs 22: 5-8
We pick up today with Mattathias’ son Judas taking the reigns and continuing the battles. Also known as “the hammer” he enjoys quick successes against Samaria and then Syria. That results in these enemies doubling and tripling down with the goal to “wipe out and destroy the strength of Israel and the remnant of Jerusalem.”
As Judas and his rag tag group of warriors see the King and these forces gathering, encroaching on their borders, it’s a pivotal moment to give into fear or for them to double, triple down in faith. Judas’ words make it clear: “Let us repair the destruction of our people, and fight for our people and the sanctuary.” They are not focusing on the obstacles but on the vision their father has left them. Relying on God – not simply in word but in prayer and fasting as they prepare for battle.
It’s amazing to hear them saying “it is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary.” In their heart of hearts they believe, being God’s chosen people is better than ending up a slave to a fellow mere mortal. With that, even before the battle, they have in fact become victorious.
DAY 285: 1 Maccabees 4; Sirach 10-12; Proverbs 22: 9-12
THE WAR AGAINST HANUKKAH
As the calendar turns to October, and Christmas displays already begin to pop up in stores (!!!) It won’t be long before from some corner we will hear of the commercialization of our holiday and how it has diminished the real meaning of this feast day to Christians. In some ways, our elder brothers and sisters of the covenant could lodge similar concerns about the celebration that often times falls in the month of December: Hanukkah. Thanks to Adam Sandler’s “It’s time to celebrate Hanukkah” song, most people know of celebrities who are Jewish and how this celebration lasts for “8 crazy nights.” But that would probably be the extent of many people’s knowledge of the holiday.
Today we encounter the origins of this milestone moment for the Chosen People (although we won’t hear about the miracle of the light until 2 Maccabees) First they are victorious in confronting enemies. Even though the Jews were outnumbered, out armed, they step out in faith to battle, confident in the “one who redeems and saves Israel.”(Maccabees 4: 12) Each time they encounter a battle they recall God’s goodness “Remember how our fathers were saved at the Red Sea” (4: 9) “Blessed are you, O Savior of Israel, who did crush the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of your servant David” (4:30). They’re recalling God’s goodness to renew their faith in a God who does the impossible.
Which is one of the beautiful aspects of the cleansing and dedication of the temple. They’ve dealt with the enemy from outside, now they see what has befallen their most sacred place. And it moves them to mourning and fasting. But notice what happens – they don’t wallow in their grief. They don’t let the enormity of the situation to overwhelm them. They begin by doing what they knew had to be done: remove all that was holy, as they begin cleaning up all that defiled the place. Even though all of this had the potential to overwhelm, depress and discourage, they 1 – remembered what God had done; 2- did what they knew they could do and had to be done; 3- which opened their eyes, their hearts to see, to believe that God was still with them, especially as they went about the importance of re-establishing the temple.
May we remember those three steps from the Hanukkah story when things look bleak, when we’re overwhelmed, when we start to despair. God’s promises, His action isn’t limited to 8 crazy nights 🙂
DAY 286: 1 Maccabees 5; Sirach 13-15; Proverbs 22: 13-16
ANNIHILATION OF THE JEWS
How many times have we read of different empires, kingdoms, religious groups that had as their aim the annihilation of the Jewish people? It’s an awful question, isn’t it? Particularly as we recognize the Shoah of the last century at the hands of the Nazi regime – this isn’t something from ancient history. But when today’s reading from Maccabees came to verse 14 and highlighted the current threat that the Jews were facing from the Gentiles – for the “crime” of rebuilding the Holy of Holies, rededicating the altar – causing the Gentiles to want to “annihilate us” that thought came to mind.
Historians, politicians can argue and spin their theories as to why this continues to happen. For example, some theorize that Egypt (before the Red Sea) needed this type of national unity around their beliefs – or that Hitler needed to find a minority group to blame for economic difficulties. Which there are aspects of factual accuracy connected to those theories.
But sadly, an inconvenient truth here at day 286…. We have to recognize something pretty stark: these forces, these individuals at their core – don’t just dislike the Jewish people or disagree with their religious practices and beliefs – they hate God.
It’s difficult to wrap our minds around that. We’re so conditioned to be solicitous even to “enemies” forces – why are people acting this way? We want to find some non-evil reason – a psychosis or mental health issue to explain it. But – not discounting those serious difficulties that afflict many people – we cannot ignore the reality of evil that is going on both in scripture and in our current age. And that God is constantly calling His people into “Spiritual warfare.”
For most of us, please God, we will not have to deal with physical battle as our ancestors did in confronting the enemy, the evil in their time. But we need to be just as vigilant ourselves using the weapons of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to confront our foe, whose goal remains the same – trying to annihilate God – and His people.
DAY 287: 1 Maccabees 6; Sirach 16-18; Proverbs 22: 17-21
THE DEATH OF ANTIOCHUS
For anyone who found certain portions of the Bible in a Year a bit dry (which it was at times) – today certainly isn’t. No doubt for many, your attention will be gripped by a pretty graphic death of an elephant in the midst of a battle. (Fr. Mike had mentioned that there was discussion of a cinematic treatment of Maccabees by Mel Gibson… as if he hasn’t had controversy before, one might imagine this could turn into something problematic as well, but I digress…)
One of the important points about this chapter is the death of Antiochus. He doesn’t die heroically in battle that his people could be proud of his “fighting to the end.” Nor does he die as a result of injuries or sickness from similar acts of bravery. He is overwhelmed with grief because as he sees how his “gods” were toppled – the powerful Zeus and Baal – whose temples had been cut down – and that the Jews had grown strong, that they had rebuilt and rededicated their temple (although some historians argue this happened before the temple rededication). That completely shatters him and he begins to “remember the evils I did in Jerusalem…” (Maccabees 6: 12) His death bed realization is that the Lord God, is God alone. You almost hear a sense of contrition on his part. Which is amazing in itself. From an unlikely source you hear this pagan King recognizing why in fact “the Chosen people” are so named. Unlike the Pharaoh of old who 10 plagues later remained obstinate in his anger and rage leading his troops and armies into a suicide mission into the Red Sea – Antiochus gets it.
Evil takes many forms and as we discussed, the annihilation of the Jews is one way that has manifested itself over the millennia. For a change, it’s worth noting when an someone who has had such evil in their hearts having a death bed confession. Perhaps enlivening hope for those still gripped with similar evil that they too will have an awakening, a conversion, a repentance – preferably before their viciousness is unleashed on the innocent.
DAY 288: 1 Maccabees 7; Sirach 19-21 Proverbs 22: 22-25
“REST FOR A FEW DAYS.”
Chapter 7 ends with those words – Judah had rest for a few days. If I was doing the reading, I might pause between “rest” and “for” to heighten the dramatic tension. Because after we hear of another threat rising, another enemy that is plotting a seemingly impossible to defeat assault, what happens? The people go into the temple. They bear their hearts and souls before God asking for deliverance. Which He does… they are successful, they celebrate, and so they can finally rest . . .for a few days. It’s frustrating to read that the Jews are never completely free of these threats isn’t it? The moments of peace are seemingly always “few.”
It struck me reflecting on that reality being true for us in our spiritual lives. How many of us start the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday with some noble aspirations – “I’m going to give up coffee for the entire season of Lent” (I did that one year which was a disaster of epic proportions. Oh, I refrained from drinking coffee but complained about every day that whatever benefit I had hoped for was definitely undermined!) “I’m going to get to daily Mass every day” and by the Wednesday of the first week we miss and think “I screwed up now, I guess I’ll have to try again next Lent.” Or outside of Lent, even here in our Bible in a Year community – how many people have let the reality that they stopped a few days ago, a few weeks ago, a few months ago to convince them “I messed up, I’ll have to start over.”
To an even greater extent, how about when we’ve confronted something sinful in our lives? We finally muster up the courage to go to confession. With complete sincerity and genuineness we don’t want to think about it again – only to find ourselves tempted by thoughts, feelings, actions (or inactions)
We can get lulled into a false sense of security when days, weeks, months or seasons go by and things are progressing to think we’ve overcome the threats, the enemy is defeated on gone on to someone else. The devil is constantly looking for any slight crack in any of our resolve to cause us to get discouraged, to despair, to give up.
The Jews throughout their history teach us its important to remember the victories. To celebrate what God has done for that. To enjoy those moments of peace. But those moments are meant for a few days… we must never growing complacent, or lazy… we always need to remain vigilant.
DAY 289: 1 Maccabees 8; Sirach 22-23; Proverbs 22: 26-29
ALLIANCE WITH ROME
As Father Mike had mentioned in one of the podcasts this week, one of the reasons the Books of Maccabees is of importance for us (apart from the obvious, it being the Word of God) is the historical context it provides. This period, about a century before the coming of Christ is pivotal in many ways. For some in our Bible in a year pilgrimage here, some of this information might be “new” to you and will forever shift your perspective when reading the New Testament.
In today’s reading of Chapter 8 we hear the beginnings of an alliance with Rome. Judas was impressed with Rome for a specific reason: they were a republic and were not ruled by a king. It’s one of the first times in history (particularly in the ancient world) that there was a legislative body that represented the people. This notion of people being free to rule themselves without king actually had been proposed earlier by someone else: GOD! That was how Israel was supposed to have been organized recognizing their only “King” being the Lord God.
It’s obvious reflecting on the way this empire was set up, why Judas would be enamored with this empire. There will be elements of this alliance that are beneficial and detrimental in the long run for the Jewish people, as is always the case when we’re making deals with mere mortals (and pagans) rather than God alone.
DAY 290: 1 Maccabees 9; Sirach 24-25; Proverbs 23: 1-4
A JUDAS WE’RE SAD TO LOSE
Today, we read of the death of Judas who has truly been a military warrior and in many ways a hero to the Jewish people. Even though many of his fellow soldiers had deserted at the sight of the vast army that was about to attack them, leaving them to face even more insurmountable odds, Judas remains steadfast. He argues “If our time has come, let us die bravely for our brethren, and leave no cause to question our honor.” (1 Maccabees 9: 10)
Understandably, any discussion of warfare is problematic. We know that things like violence, destruction, death – were not intended to be a part of God’s creation. But this episode brings reality and some important questions about life to the forefront:
What is it that we are willing to lay our physical lives down for? Every time I read a story of a Saint who was martyred, I’m always inspired and challenged whether I would be able to lay down my life for Christ and His Church, and in all honesty I’m not sure I’d be able to. I know in many ways I’ve laid down my life already for Him – I know how imperfect that has been. I know I want to say that I would, gladly. But I am well aware of my weaknesses. So for me, this is a challenge to pray for deeper love, conviction and courage… This is an invitation to continue to accept the “little deaths” that come in the day to day from following Christ rather than fighting them. This is where joyfully taking on some acts of denial, sacrifice, fasting is an effective teacher.
And secondly, we’re being asked how deeply do we believe what we say we believe? For Judas, it’s not just his love for God and God’s people that guides this decision. What animates Judas is his relationship with the Lord God and his belief that this physical life of his was not the end of his story. He’s not crossing his fingers and hoping for the best… More than likely, as we’ve seen previously, he’s recalling the history of God’s goodness, examples where He’s shown up and shown out in dramatic ways. Judas puts his faith in the God who parted the Red Sea, who had fought so many battles before his time and in his time, trusting He would do so again.
DAY 291: 1 Maccabees 10; Sirach 26-27; Proverbs 23: 5-8
I’m glad Fr. Mike underscored one of the challenges of 1 Maccabees yesterday in his podcast – that we’re getting a pretty straight-forward historical narrative of things without much in terms of theological significance here. We’re dealing with Jonathan – who is being treated as a King (even though we know he’s not truly the king of Israel) by friend and foe… we hear of alliances and ongoing battles… Even a wedding today (enter Cleopatra to the narrative!) In short it sounds simply like another episode of “days of our lives” – Maccabean edition.
As we continue to navigate these “drier” sections, the book of Sirach, provides a background of important words of wisdom on how one ought to live. In my own boredom at chapter 10 of Maccabees, this line from Sirach jumped out:
“If a man is not steadfast and zealous in the fear of the Lord, his house will be quickly overthrown.” (Sirach 27: 3)
How easy it is as daily life simply continues – when things can seem a bit boring or monotonous – for us to without even realizing it start to become “lukewarm” in our faith life? Maybe running through the motions and keeping up with the “obligations” – but cutting corners, and not quite as steadfast and far from zealous.
One of the blessings of the more mundane times is the opportunity for us to go deeper in our faith without the extremes of the joys that we celebrate, or the sorrows that bring us to our knees as we beg in intercessory prayer. May we take this day to find a way to be steadfast and zealous ourselves in our fear of the Lord.
DAY 292: 1 Maccabees 11; Sirach 28-29; Proverbs 23: 9-12
For many Christians, the very notion of forgiveness seems to be a Christian virture. When it does appear in the Old Testament, we can pretty quickly remember the many times it is associated with God’s forgiveness towards humanity. But the thought of forgiveness among human beings itself are hard to call to mind. Which is why today’s reading from Sirach is worth really pausing and reflecting over:
“Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord? (Sirach 28: 2-3) Just reading that line, my mind went to Jesus saying “the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7: 2) or “forgive and you will be forgiven” (Mark 11: 24)
To be clear, the concept of forgiveness, something we’re thankful to receive and struggle to offer, is something that runs through the entirety of scripture – Old and New Testament. But as we’ve discussed before, in the Old Testament we’re dealing with a lot of things that humanity does that are not God’s desire or His will that understandably stand out.
God is not directing us to forgive in some tit-for-tat manner, forcing us to grit our teeth and snarl the words out in order for us to receive His forgiveness. He is calling us to confront the angers that reside, sometimes legitimate and justifiable angers… He is calling us to bring those hurts those pains those complex feelings to Him… to place them in His hands, to place our enemies in His hands – to even say “I can’t do this” when the proposition of forgiveness comes to mind – but putting them in the hands of Him, who can. That is when the healing we seek from the Lord is manifested in our lives.
DAY 293: 1 Maccabees 12; Sirach 30-31; Proverbs 23: 13-16
POLITICS HAS ALWAYS BEEN DIRTY
Betrayal, double-crossing, set-ups – sadly isn’t just something we can point to on our televisions and news feeds today, but see very much at play in today’s reading from first Maccabees. Jonathan had used his leadership in strategic ways to try to position the Jewish nation in good relations with Rome and Sparta. When a man by the name of Trypho deides he wans to become the ruler in Sparta and saw Jonathan as a potential obstacle he uses deception to lull Jonathan into a sense of false security and then entrap him and his remaining forces into death and destruction.
This is one of those moments where this book of Maccabees is frustrating. Is Jonathan at fault for trying to negotiate a political truce and position the Jewish nation into some sense of safety and security with very pagan peoples? There’s not a prophet around to speak words of correction or guidance in this situation. Thinking ahead a few centuries, in that episode when trying to ensnare Jesus into a political debate between the Jews and Romans over paying taxes, Jesus sidesteps it with “whose face is on this coin… give to Caesar what is Caesars and give to God what is God’s.” Some see that as Jesus being dismissive to the issue or one of the earliest examples of “separation of Church and state” – both of which are incorrect. What Jesus pointed out to the individuals asking the question – the fact that they “possessed” a coin with Caesar’s image on it, had allowed Rome to possess them, lay a claim on them – so they had a duty, a responsibility to that. It’s disingenuous for them to participate in the Roman economy and then want God to right what they decide was an injustice.
Not to say that Jonathan “got what he deserved” here for trying to be an effective political leader – but it’s a reminder of the challenge of being “in the world” but not being corrupted by it, or becoming “of the world.” We see that battle in our own day and age with politicians who want to broadcast their faith but then legislate in ways that don’t align with those pronouncements. While everyone of us is well aware of the spiritual warfare we’re all confronted with in our own lives, for those living in these “two worlds” it’s particularly dangerous for them on many levels, most importantly spiritually. As we reflect on Jonathan’s demise, may we take a moment to sincerely pray for all our political leaders to genuinely open their hearts and minds to hear and receive God’s wisdom, particularly in fulfilling their duties and responsibilities.
DAY 294: 1 Maccabees 13; Sirach 32-33; Proverbs 23: 17-21
Some of you may have heard the term “Spiritual Direction” thrown around in some of the comments on our posts in here or in some of the podcasts over the last 294 days. In short, it’s sort of like mentorship or coaching someone in their prayer life. Where the “directee” would share what’s been going on in terms of their day to day life and how they are discerning God’s movements in it. Decades ago Spiritual Direction was something that only priests and members of religious congregations would participate in on a regular basis. But in recent years, a greater number of lay people have engaged in this practice, and there’s even been a growth in lay people who have taken courses to become “certified” as Spiritual Directors as well.
It hit me reading Sirach today that in a lot of ways, one of the reasons this book is such a treasure is that it reads like a good spiritual director prompting some thoughts for reflection. In my experience, a good spiritual director doesn’t necessarily reveal something new, but helps underline things that are known, point out things that are happening and try to cast a new light on them in response to some circumstance or experience. Isn’t that what we are experiencing going through Sirach? “No evil will befall the man who fears the Lord, but in trial he will deliver him again and again” (Sirach 33: 1). This isn’t some new revelation – not by a long stretch. But in my current circumstance – being a bit cooped up post-surgery and a bit impatient and frustrated that my “ordinary routine” has been disrupted, it was a welcome reminder to catch myself when discouraging thoughts start to enter in.
Today I just encourage you as you listen or read through these scriptures to listen to something that perhaps the Lord is trying to highlight in your heart or mind… knowing that the Holy Spirit who knows us most intimately, is the best Spiritual Director we could possibly have. How is He speaking to you today?
DAY 295: 1 Maccabees 14; Sirach 34-35; Proverbs 23: 22-25
PEACE ON EARTH
Oftentimes when preparing these reflections, I read different translations of the scriptures. It’s helpful for someone with A.D.D. to read and hear the same thing with some variations to pick up on different nuances and themes. One thought navigating through this chapter of Maccabees today though was this idyllic picture of life in Judah at this point in Simon’s reign. The idea of the nation being at peace was subtly described in a contemporary translation that described things “people could doze off under their grapes or figs without fear for their life. Soldiers became farmers; upstart kings became bad jokes…” (The Message translation 1 Macc 14: 4-15)
Reading that, I must confess it felt reminiscent of my childhood. Being born in 1973 – Vietnam was something I learned about later. “The Cold War” with the U.S.S.R. was fought without any real-world disturbance or consequence to my daily life – that was a unifying thing for our nation (with even movies like Rocky IV chiming in to rally people to the cause). The Church, too, seemed invincible. After being traumatized by the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, seeing him recover and becoming even stronger and somewhat larger than life – all contributed to my innocence or naivete about the state of affairs of things being “at peace.”
The reality is for many of us, our vision of peace is the absence of conflict. Which if we’re fortunate to experience, is something that is fleeting at best. The People of God – then and now – shouldn’t desire and work for that as a goal – for dialogue, for resolution, for reconciliation to avoid things escalating whether among a family or with each greater circle of connection we belong to. But the reality is “peace on earth” is something that only comes from communion with God. Simon, in 1 Maccabees greatest accomplishment? “He strengthened all the humble of his people; he sought out the law, and did away with every lawless and wicked man. He made the sanctuary glorious, and added to the vessels of the sanctuary.” (1 Maccabees 14: 14-15) The greatness of this period wasn’t the absence of conflict, the diplomatic achievements with Rome and Sparta or honors Simon received from the people or foreign dignitaries. It was found in honoring God’s law. It was found in restoring proper worship to God.
It’s a good reminder that when we do the same, even amidst trials and tribulations, we continue to experience “peace on earth” – by remaining rooted and connected on that which is greater than anyone or anything we could find on earth.
DAY 296: 1 Maccabees 15; Sirach 36-37; Proverbs 23: 26-28
WHEN GOD SHOWS UP
How difficult is it dealing with atheists? Or rather not those who don’t believe in Him, but hate God? More than a “right vs left” political argument, there’s something far deeper with these types of “debates” that can be fore many believers quite difficult to navigate. Having discussions with someone who’s Jewish can be interesting, or dialogue with other Christian groups can become pretty animated. At the end of whatever conversations, no matter how dramatic the disagreements that are expressed might have been, I’ve often found that there’s usually a sense of awe and wonder that we’re still trying to understand and share our understanding of who God is with a fellow believer who has a different perspective.
But when it comes to those who reject the Lord God, we are often encountering individuals whose world view and “after-life” view aren’t just differing in a matter of degrees, it’s in opposition. And because it’s not just an opposition to an ideology, but a person (well one God, three persons to be precise 🙂 ) it can become even more heated. I can share from personal experience that there have been times when I’ve let my mouth move faster than my head or heart would’ve liked in hindsight.
Sirach’s words of advice in chapter 36 is one we should have at the ready the next time we encounter these types of situations. Actually it’s not a word of advice, but a prayer. Again, we have to keep the entirety of the prayer in mind, because Sirach, he too gets a little heated when he starts praying that the adversaries get wiped out. That’s Sirach’s vision of how God will reveal Himself to those who don’t believe.
But to me the key is verse 5: “and let them know you, as we have known that there is no God but you, O Lord.” Sirach couldn’t have imagined that God will answer this prayer in an amazing way with Jesus. Far from wiping off “the enemies” He fulfills the mission and purpose of the Chosen People to truly make God known to the very ends of the earth. That’s one reason in the Gospels we find so many Jews go from being in wonder and awe of what Jesus does to in the next minute seeing Him as a heretic. God is a God of wonders and surprises who as He looks at the vastness of His creation is saddened by those who don’t know Him or acknowledge Him, but doesn’t cease trying to break through their stubbornness, their blindness, their arrogance or their ignorance. As I look at the view from my window as the sun sets on a fall afternoon, I’m just moved in awe of the beauty of His creation and taken by surprise by how it hits me from time to time when God just shows up and shows out, right in front of me.
May we allow our defensiveness in protection of God to be transformed into that type of prayer for the “enemies” of God – that they will know Him, as we are continuing to come to know and love Him.
DAY 297: 1 Maccabees 16; Sirach 38-39; Proverbs 23: 29-35
WHAT WE PASS DOWN
One of the most memorable Christmas Eve celebrations was when I was in 6th Grade. Up to that that point, my first10 years of life were defined by going to Grandma’s house for the dinner of 7 fishes (and at least one course of macaroni, usually cavatelli and broccoli). One Saturday morning at breakfast around this time of year, I remember my Mother explaining to us that this particular year, she would be hosting and cooking Christmas Eve dinner. I remember being confused – Christmas Eve was always at Grandma’s… My first thought was Grandma on board with this?
I hadn’t really realized that after Grandma had suffered a few health set backs how much that had slowed her down a bit. Nor did I understand how much time, energy and effort it is to cook and host such a holiday celebration (something that I only fully realized in recent years when doing the same for my family). Grandma was not only agreeable to this, but was sincerely happy that Christmas – to see how her daughter had taken to heart not just how to cook like she did and host a holiday dinner – but the importance of family, the beauty of serving.
That memory came to mind reading this final chapter of 1 Maccabees. Initially it was sad thinking that for generations Simon and his brothers – and really every generation since “the Fall” back in Genesis have been involved in some sense of warfare, now passing the baton on to another generation. But we have to go beneath the surface. Simon passed on something worth fighting for – for the freedom they had been given by the Lord God – for their identity as His chosen people – for their ability to follow His law and worship Him alone. It would be wonderful if those things weren’t threatened by different peoples and forces in the world. But the reality is the importance of those things had taken root as something, indeed the only thing worth fighting for.
As we continue to walk through this biblical journey together, may those truths grow deeper for us and, just as importantly, may that faith, and the courage needed to protect and defend it be something we pass along as well.
DAY 298: 2 Maccabees 1; Sirach 40-41; Proverbs 24: 1-7
ITS BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE HANUKKAH
As Father Mike has pointed out in his podcast as we were preparing to complete reading 1 Maccabees and now today as we begin 2 Maccabees – this isn’t a sequel to the first part. In some ways we are re-visiting the previous book but from a different author with his different perspective and insights. While there will be names that will be recurring, one of the major differences we will hear and read more explicitly is of the Lord God’s presence and miraculous action among His people. Whereas 1 Maccabees was more of a historical narrative, this one will sound more scriptural with the author highlighting certain things and making connections for his readers.
In many ways it will prove to be a fitting conclusion to the Old Testament. We will hear of the inevitable “wars” that play out between the worldly powers and those remaining faithful to the Lord God and His covenant. We will hear of heroes, villains, martyrs. And we will set the stage for the prayer of Nehemiah in today’s reading to be answered in an unimaginable way to these 2nd Century BC Jews.
As the chapter describes the celebration of Hanukkah, we will see the importance of the purification and re-establishment of the temple has made it prominent once again. We have to remember that prior to the exile, the temple was considered the holiest place on earth and the place for Jews to offer their sacrifices to the Lord. Yes the temple has been dedicated once again, and that is the cause for this annual celebration of Hanukkah. But when we hear the prayer, it’s obvious that hasn’t solved all of the issues for the chosen people: “Gather together our scattered people, set free those who are slaves among the Gentiles, look upon those who are rejected and despised, and let the Gentiles know that you are our God” (2 Maccabees 27).
Catholic Christians understand that this physical structure no longer suffices, and that God Himself will once again make His dwelling among us in a far more intimate, personal way that will be able to reach the very ends of the earth. This most sacred place on earth will be found in every tabernacle where the real presence of Jesus Christ is found in the Eucharist… as well as in the bodies of all those who receive Him with the charge to “become what you receive.”
DAY 299: 2 Maccabees 2; Sirach 42-44; Proverbs 24: 8-9
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Part 2)
The second chapter of 2 Maccabees begins with a discussion about the Ark of the Covenant that had been hidden by the Prophet Jeremiah in a cave on the Mountain where God had first given Moses the commandments. You might remember that the ark contained those two stone tablets that God had written the commandments on; some manna and the priestly rod of Aaron. The ark having been “hidden” or “lost” caused great distress for the Jewish people since it was the holiest thing that they had which had been in the holiest site on earth – the temple. Jeremiah’s indication that it would be revealed at the time of God’s choosing in one sense alleviated some of their distress and at the same time raised anticipation for when or how that might be revealed.
That this discussion should re-emerge here in this last book of the Old Testament, it’s worth pointing out how we as Catholics believe the ark has been found. Not in the physical location of the original wooden instrument containing those articles. But in a person: the Blessed Virgin Mary. For from her womb comes Jesus who supercedes those items in being the fulfillment of the Law (the commandments); the bread of life (manna) and the eternal High Priest (the rod of Aaron).
May the Blessed Mother continue to pray for us as we continue to ponder all these biblical truths and that they lead us to come to know and love the Word of God, not just in this Bible Study, but in the person of Jesus Christ.
DAY 300: 2 Maccabees 3; Sirach 45-46; Proverbs 24: 10-12
So now we’re getting to some of the fun parts. Chapter 3 of 2 Maccabees is definitely a dramatic story with the “happy ending” that so often we desire. You have these villains lying, conspiring against the Jews and trying to steal from the treasury of the temple – and in fact stealing from God himself. You have the people of God crying out to God to come to their aid. And He does in pretty awesome, dramatic, and unexpected fashion. You even get one of the villains making a 180 degree shift to if not making an outright conversion, at least a reverence and respect for the Lord God.
My initial gut was – would that all our enemies fared the same way. How I’d love the Lord God to send some horsemen after some people (I have a list, Lord). I’m embarrassed to say I’m only half-joking in that desire. That’s my problem, and perhaps some others as well. Whether it’s in dealing with enemies, or answers to other prayers that we bring to the Lord God, how often do we present to Him the answer that we want and are sure that will make all things right?
We have to keep in focus that when the high priest, the priests and the people lay themselves out before the Lord, they’re not doing so with those things – with the answers they want, the justice they think they deserve, nor the punishment they believe is fair for these enemies. Their prayer is of sorrow at what was unfolding in their midst. Their anger wasn’t “hey that’s money we deposited and you can’t take it.” Their anger, their sadness was that God’s temple was being defiled by these “enemies.” They call out to Him in reverence – and they surrender to His will.
Whatever the thing that we’re praying for, whether it’s contending with an enemy or interceding for some understandable need, that’s one of the keys to effective prayer. Truly getting to a place of surrender. Having the faith and trust that God is who He says He is – All Good, All Loving, All Powerful – and He desires our true happiness for all eternity. And that is true whether He shows up and shows out in dramatic fashion with some horsemen to fight our battles, or seems silent. God is Good, all the time… and all the time, God is Good.
DAY 301: 2 Maccabees 4; Sirach 47-49; Proverbs 24: 13-16
Yesterday we heard about the assault on God and His temple from outsiders. Now we hear of fighting that arises from within the People of God themselves. You hear of this fight between Onias and Jason and appealing/aligning with secular authorities for assistance in determining who would serve as High Priest. By now, fellow travellers, you can figure out for yourselves why this is a bad idea and where this will ultimately lead. The mixing with secular authorities, the mixing of Jewish traditions with those of the Greeks – in short, have “bad idea” written all over them.
But it’s interesting to note that these threats came from within their own ranks. You have this infighting that was born out of jealousy, envy – which initiates all these schemes where it’s almost as if they’re saying “if I can’t get what I want, I’ll burn it all down.”
It’s a good reminder for us that so many threats we face in our spiritual lives, they too come from within. We can see that on a collective level, for example as a Church. How many divisions, fights and confusion come from leaders and groups who aren’t listening to God, listening to Jesus (who has given us more than enough to listen to and follow) but focused on what they want? We can see that on a personal level as well – how often those temptations to go my own way, do my own thing re-emerge.
What’s essential is being mindful of that reality in the day to day. Recognizing how the devil is constantly looking for just the slightest of openings to cause any tension, disturb any unity or peace by getting us to turn away from the Lord God and instead focus within.
DAY 302: 2 Maccabees 5; Sirach 50-51; Proverbs 24: 17-20
THE GLORY OF THE TEMPLE
It’s hard to believe that almost two years ago people tuned in from around the world to their screens to see the famed Cathedral Notre Dame of Paris engulfed in flames nearly destroying it completely. Interestingly though, was the variety of perspectives in the news coverage. For many reporters, the focus was on this historic site and it’s artistic treasures that were damaged or ruined. Speculation ran as to how to “repair” or “rebuild” with some (to put it charitably) interesting proposals being offered. Eventually it was settled that it would be rebuilt/restored exactly as it was prior to the fire. But sadly, I think most of the French people involved and central to these debates and that decision are speaking solely from an architectural and artistic perspective. And they’re missing an important point. Because the reality is the “destruction” of the Cathedral began long before the first spark of that fire engulfed that structure. As of 2020, polls show that less than 8% of French Catholics attend Mass on a regular basis.
That came to mind reading chapter five of Second Maccabees as we heard of the pillage of the temple. Once again what was considered the holiest place to all the Jews had suffered another horrific defilement and desecration. But the reality was it wasn’t just the hands of the evil Antiochus that brought this about. The Jewish people had, once again, strayed from the heart of the covenant with God. As the author of 2 Maccabees writes it: “the Lord did not choose the nation for the sake of the holy place, but the place for the sake of the nation. (2 Macc 5: 19). What made the temple “glorious”; what made it a place that the Lord had wanted to dwell was the hearts of His people. With that being significantly diminished, that’s not to say Antiochus wouldn’t have attempted such an attack – and might have even been successful in it. But the physical devastation would have been mitigated by the faithfulness of His people. The true glory would have remained intact.
It’s always an essential point that these physical structures are important. They often are snapshots of the faith of the people at the time the buildings are first erected. When you walk into any worship space – a temple, a chapel, a church – whether it’s centuries old or a modern day structure, you’re seeing the thoughtfulness, reflection, sacrifices and prayers of the people. And they are beautiful and important places for people to congregate in offering God the praise and worship He deserves. But this episode from 2 Maccabees resonates to Catholic Christians even more. As St. Paul wrote in his First letter to the Corinthians: You’re bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately the continued life and growth of any “Holy Site” comes from His people embracing and living that sacred identity.
DAY 303: 2 Maccabees 6; Wisdom 1-2; Proverbs 24: 21-26
Today is an exciting day for us Biblical Pilgrims. We begin the 46th – and final book of the Old Testament – the Book of Wisdom! In 10 days we will have completed the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures and fully immerse ourselves with the New Testament. To paraphrase/quote Fr Mike – MAN OH MAN – YOU GUYS – WAY TO GO!! 🙂 In all seriousness – it’s a tremendous accomplishment (whenever you’re reading this – whether you’ve been consecutive now for 303 days since January 1 or not). Thank you for your commitment and interest – and for you holding me accountable to keep up with all of this as well. While I’ve read the entirety of scripture before, I’ve never done it in an intentional manner like this -so while I’m very touched and grateful for all of you’re kind notes and support – you’ve all been a gift to me as well!
Back to Wisdom – so off the bat, we have to clarify that while it’s being ascribed to King Solomon, he lived about 900 years before this was written (around 2nd century BC) Ascribing this divinely inspired work to him was not uncommon in the ancient world as a way of humility for the author as well as highlighting the importance of the text itself – appealing to a figure who was considered one of Judaism’s greatest men and wisest of figures. The book has three basic themes. Chapters 1-5 talks about the need to pursue righteousness; Chapters 6- 9 will focus on the source of wisdom and the importance of pursuing it; and Chapters 10- 19 will highlight how the Chosen People have demonstrated the blessings of pursuing wisdom.
It’s amazing reading these opening chapters and imagining if every individual who were to assume any leadership position were to read and reflect on them. The exhortations we find in the first chapter to seek the Lord and love righteousness as well as the disasters that await those who follow the path of the wicked in chapter 2 – are as relevant today as they did over 21 centuries ago. Until that day, each of us are blessed to have some time to hear this Word of God ourselves with the hopes that these important truths can take root in our hearts.
DAY 304: 2 Maccabees 7; Wisdom 3; Prvoerbs 24: 27-29
THE MOTHER AND HER SEVEN SONS
Today’s reading from 2 Maccabees is one of the best-known stories from this entire book. The mother of 7 sons who are all tortured in front of their mother for refusing to violate the dietary laws of the Jews, specifically they would not eat pork. The back and forth between the sons and Antiochus is kind of hard to wrap our minds around. Something seemingly so trivial rising to the level of life and death. And you probably wouldn’t have to look hard for some commentators who would argue why these men and their mother would have been justified for violating this law, and should have done just that.
But by now, hopefully, we know, it’s not about the pork. This whole debate is about where does power, where authority comes from? When is obedience required? Who is the ruler of our lives?
The courage of this family is born from this heroic mother’s faith which she’s passed down to her children. We see this anonymous woman as a prophetic voice to the coming of Jesus Christ as she explains that she doesn’t fear death because she believes in the resurrection:
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 man 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. (2 Macc 7: 22-23)
Think about it, 20 centuries later, these individuals are revered among Jews and Christians because of their fidelity to God. May these brave martyrs pray for us, that we who have received the fullness of the truth in Jesus Christ and experience the power of the Resurrection everytime we receive the Sacraments might be a bit bolder in our witness to Him – particularly in our day and age when we encounter far greater challenges in the public square to the sincerity of our deeply held beliefs than over what we will or will not eat.
DAY 305: 2 Maccabees 8; Wisdom 5- 6; Proverbs 24: 30-34
MATURATION IN FAITH
One of the things that stands out in this chapter of Maccabees, as we draw ever closer to the end of the Old Testament is how in a sense, the Jews had grown as a people. From the rebellion against God who needed to tame and train them in the wilderness after the Exodus and before they entered the promised land – we now can hear and read a maturity we hadn’t encountered before. Without a prophet to warn them when they were going astray, we hear Judas leading the people as they
“begged the Lord to look upon the people who were oppressed by all, and to have pity on the temple which had been profaned by ungodly men, and to have mercy on the city which was being destroyed….and to heed the blood that cried out to him, and to remember also…the blasphemies committed against his name, and to show his hatred of evil [8:2-4].”
And how they were to deal with the spoils of war:
“When they had collected the arms of the enemy and stripped them of their spoils, they kept the Sabbath, giving great praise and thanks to the Lord…. After the Sabbath they gave some of the spoils to those who had been tortured and to the widows and orphans…. When they had done this, they made common supplication and begged the merciful Lord to be wholly reconciled with his servants. In encounters with the forces of Timothy and Bacchides they…divided very much plunder, giving to those who had been tortured and to the orphans and widows, and also to the aged, shares equal to their own. [8:27-30]
We heard yesterday of their belief in the resurrection, and in a few days will hear the beginnings of our understanding regarding purgatory. In so many ways, we can see how the people are finally starting to get it. But it won’t suffice on it’s own. They still need Him. As do we all.
DAY 306: 2 Maccabees 9; Wisdom 7-8; Proverbs 25: 1-3
That was unexpected. You probably didn’t expect to read or hear about the gastrointestinal issues of Antiochus. Nor, even more noteworthy (albeit possibly lost after that TMI about his, “condition”) of his conversion. After being such a villain for so long, to the point that the author of 2 Maccabees observes these sudden health issues that had befallen him, were “…very justly for he had tortured the bowels of others with many and strange inflictions” was this an authentic conversion? Or was Antiochus hoping simply to get God off his back?
In one sense, it doesn’t really matter. Because in either case, Antiochus is acknowledging the Lord God. Here’s a pagan ruler who’s been arrogantly, ruthlessly, loving his power. Now he’s face to face with his own mortality. None of the hundreds of gods he had any affinity to were of any help to him. He’s recognizing there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. His “conversion” is real in the fact that he’s conceding defeat to the Lord God – and in his desperation calls out for some sense of mercy from the Lord God. He’s throwing the ultimate of “Hail Mary” passes.
Like I said, this is unexpected on a lot of levels for us. Most especially, as Christians, when we talk about conversions, it’s a matter of the heart and mind having been won over by Jesus Christ that there’s a sense of faith and trust having come to know and love God. It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around this chapter. But put yourself in the shoes (or perhaps sandals?) Of the Jews at the time. Here they had been long suffering, trying desperately to get their homeland, their temple back to some sense of the glory of their past…. while contending with all these worldly battles and warriors. All without any prophets voice proclaiming to them God’s word as to whether they were on the right track or not. For them, this was nothing short of miraculous news. Their desperate prayers had been answered. God had once again had a spectacular defeat of one of the enemies the His Chosen People, in one of the most unlikely of places: his heart.
DAY 307: 2 Maccabees 10; Wisdom 9-10 ; Proverbs 25: 4-7
“THE LORD LEADING THEM ON”
Chapter 10 of 2 Maccabees has us hearing of the purification of the temple. Once again, references to the celebration of Hanukkah are described here. After two years of being separated from their sanctuary, they finally arrive – cleanse it of all that defiled it, worshiped the Lord God in a way of celebration and rejoicing that lasted 8 days.
Interestingly, as the chapter continues on, it seems like these are all disjointed episodes that are being recounted here. But as we hear of another battle against Timothy we see how they are connected. With the clouds of war coming upon them, what do the Jews do? They immediately turn to God: “Falling upon the steps before the altar, they begged Him to be gracious to them and to be an enemy to their enemies…” (2 Maccabees 10: 26) What Maccabeus and his followers have front and center in their hearts is that it was “the Lord leading them on.” Again – we have to remember that in one sense, this was a time of “silence” from the Lord. There was no prophetic utterances to help clarify God’s word and direction, which had to have been disconcerting. Yet in a sense it’s a deepening of their faith. They are relying on all that they had known, learned and experienced from the Lord God: “Just as dawn was breaking, the two armies joined battle, the one having as pledge of success and victory not only their valor but their reliance upon the Lord, while the other made rage their leader in the fight” (v 28).
It strikes me that in a lot of ways that’s a good reminder of a simple, yet difficult truth for people of faith in the day to day. Whether large or small, with the choices, with the battles we face, what “army” do we align ourselves with? Do we allow ourselves to sign up with forces of “rage” or do we ask the Lord to lead us on (or even ask him is this a battle I need to take on in the first place?) Too often, when we encounter failures and set backs, we fail to do some self reflection asking if we were relying solely on our selves and our own interests in the first place, which unsurprisingly leads to doom.
DAY 308: 2 Maccabees 11; Wisdom 11-12; Proverbs 25: 8-10
Yesterday we started the “final” section of the book of Wisdom. It’s good to pause and remember that as you hear or read today’s chapters because all of a sudden we hear an old, but familiar name: Moses. You might remember that this final section of Wisdom focuses on the history of the Jewish people and their pursuit of wisdom. So we’re in a sense getting a quick review of the entirety of the Old Testament. Which is good on two levels.
First because we are now 5 days out from completing the Old Testament! Which is pretty awesome guys! Especially for those of you who this is the first time you’ve intentionally set out to read the entire Bible – congratulations! These chapters are kind of special because you’re getting this divinely inspired commentary on the history of the Jews, BEFORE the arrival of Christ. For me, what I enjoy about it is how it gives this unique perspective, almost like a devout Jew who is doing a thorough examination of the collective conscience of himself and his people.
The other reason is something we first heard Fr. Mike introduce some 308 days ago: the importance of “remembering.” One of the goals is to encounter “God’s voice and live life through the lense of scripture…discovering how the story of salvation unfolds and how we fit into that story.” That’s not just a concise introductory statement that Fr. Mike reads in the daily podcast, but gets to the heart of why we read scripture. God meets us in the present moment (He reveals His name as “I AM” not “I Was” or “I Will be”) But scripture isn’t just a historical record, but the living word of God. We hear Him speaking to us, teaching us, challenging us as we remember all that God has done so we can see what He is doing here and now. Remembering our connections to the greater family of God, our ancestors in the faith from the covenant.
As we enter these last days of the Hebrew Scriptures and hear this “review” from Wisdom, may it help us remember, and review all that God has been doing in our lives, particularly these past 308 days that we’ve continued to “press play.”
DAY 309: 2 Maccabees 12; Wisdom 13-14; Proverbs 25: 11-14
This past Tuesday, the Church celebrated one of our more unique days on the Liturgical calendar. It’s not a feast or solemnity that we usually use when we remember a Saint or mark something significant like the Annunciation (when Mary was greeted by the Angel Gabriel and learned God the Father had chosen her to be the Mother of Jesus) It is called the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed” or more simply “All Souls Day.” It comes the day after All Saints Day, where the Church celebrates the countless hosts of our brothers and sisters who have been found worthy, who are in God’s eternal kingdom, who continue to intercede for those of us here on earth. Because of that proximity and frankly, lack of proper teaching for some time, people often think of it as our opportunity to remember our loved ones who have died, almost with the assumption that they too are in heaven already. That reality came to light one year when preaching on what the day is actually intended to do, to highlight our need to pray for all of our loved ones, for all the faithful departed, and in our charity also to remember those who have no one to pray for them who are in purgatory.
That’s what we see Judas Maccabee doing in this chapter of 2 Maccabees today. He orders that sacrifices be offered in the temple for Jewish soldiers who were slain in battle and were found to have worn basically good-luck charms, which are considered idols. We see in these verses the realization of the complexity of human life: here were these brave men who had willingly fought and died for their faith, but who had also violated something so fundamental in terms of faith in the Lord God with these “rabbit’s feet.” It left those behind conflicted. You can imagine the tension they experienced: Could they have been lost forever for such a violation? We who’ve traveled for 309 days have seen how in the past, physically idolatry often cost people their lives.
As Fr. Mike had pointed out though, the understanding of an after-life was something that remained a mystery for much of Jewish history. There was notions of hell, or gehenna for those who had rejected God and fought against Him. There were ideas of the souls being at rest, at peace, in sleep. You had good, faithful, devout Jews who had entirely different views of things (i.e: Saducees and Pharisees former not believing in any after life; the latter who did) The reality of heaven, the resurrection was something that can be found over time throughout the Old Testament but will (like all things in the Hebrew Scriptures) be fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
Back to Maccabees and Purgatory. This clear instance of praying for these soldiers stood out because, the teaching goes: if one is in Hell, that is eternal punishment and no prayers would be helpful. If one is in Heaven, they don’t need our prayers. But what about those who had “unfinished business” – a lack of reconciliation, an attachment to sin, a lack of charity in some areas of their lives? In other words, people like ourselves, who have died?
Ultimately we trust in the mercy of God. We trust in the God who told Samuel in looking for the future King of David “…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Purgatory, unfortunately due to some dramatic interpretations has been imagined as a prison, or an outskirt of hell where you’re waiting for a parole board to let you out. Scripture, the Church’s teaching and tradition see this as another expression of God’s mercy and seeing the heart of each and every soul. Offering this place and time of purification so that whatever that could be a remaining obstacle for that soul to reach the Heavenly promise is made ready for that gift.
Like the Maccabees, let us pray often for our loved ones that they may truly become Saints, one of the chosen ones in heaven (knowing then they can return the favor and pray for us) – and in our charity continue to pray for those souls who have no one to pray for them as an act of true charity.
DAY 310: 2 Maccabees 13; Wisdom 15-16; Proverbs 25: 15-17
PRAYER FOR ONE ANOTHER
Of all the books we’ve read so far, and someone correct me if I’m wrong here, but I can’t recall such an overt call where we read of the Jews praying for their fellow Jews to remain faithful. 2 Mac 13: 10-11: “…he ordered the people to call upon the Lord day and night, now if ever to help those who were on the point of being deprived of the law and their country and the holy temple, and not to let the people who had just begun to revive fall into the hands of the blasphemous Gentiles.”
There’s something powerful and beautiful about this prayer. It’s not directed towards someone specific or perhaps even known by the ones making the prayer. It’s acknowledging the difficulty of the life of faith oneself, but then empathizing that there are people who are struggling with obstacles that are even more challenging. It’s recognizing a supernatural bond that unites this people of faith.
As Father Mike has invited us daily as he concludes his podcast, to pray for one another and for others in this community – today’s reading is a good reminder of the importance of praying especially for those who are persecuted for their faith.
It might surprise some to learn what the most persecuted religious group is in the world right now – are Christians. The website forthemartyrs.com notes The number of people persecuted because of their faith in Christ increased over 30% in 2020 alone. There are now over 340 million Christians around the world who face high-levels of persecution because of their faith.* Despite this growing crisis, Christian Persecution is widely ignored by the media and often overlooked within Western faith communities. And a stunning statistic is that there are more martyred for their Christian faith in this current century than all other centuries of church history combined. Let’s let that reality sink in and re-read those words from Maccabees from today’s reading: “…call upon the Lord day and night, now if ever to help those who were on the point of being deprived of the law and their country and the holy temple, and not to let the people who had just begun to revive fall into the hands of the blasphemous…”
DAY 311: 2 Maccabees 14; Wisdom 17-18; Proverbs 25: 18-20
As we come ever closer to the end of 2 Maccabees, we hear this back and forth of tension that the Jews are experiencing with the Greeks continuing. There would be badmouthing, military threats and fights, anxiety over those threats – and then we see a truce, a sense of stability, and moments of peace – like we see with Maccabeus and Nicanor. These moments are fleeting as pressure from outside authorities, jealousy and envy, suspicion enter in and take root. The Jews continue to feel the tension and frustration as they call out “O Lord of all, who have need of nothing, you were pleased that there be a temple for your habitation among us; so now O holy One, Lord of all holiness, keep undefiled for ever this house that has been so recently purified.” (2 Maccabees 14: 35-36)
It’s fascinating isn’t it for us to be on the other side of things, isn’t it? We can hear this reverence and desire they have for God’s dwelling among them to be restored in a way they had only heard about but had never experienced themselves. They were awaiting the fullness of time when the temple would be pure, undefiled, the center of their lives – when God would return the ark to the Holy of Holies and fill the entire place with His presence.
While they recognized God had sustained them, protected them, fought for them, they still felt the silence of not having a prophet sent to them. What they couldn’t see was how God was answering their prayers. Soon there would be no need to navigate with God’s enemies for them to have access to Him and His presence. This longing, this anticipation, this “silence” would soon end in a most unexpected way. God was indeed doing something new. Their faithfulness would be the foundation He would build upon to indeed something new with the coming of Jesus Christ.
DAY 312: 2 Maccabees 15; Wisdom 19; Proverbs 25: 21-23
BIASED TOWARDS NEW
It’s one of the outgrowths of modern day consumerism. With the pace of evolution, development, innovation at a speed the world has never seen we’re constantly looking for what is “new.” The cell phones (if we even call them that anymore, the “smart phones”) we carry not only are making “land lines” unnecessary for growing numbers of people – they’re making cameras even personal computers sometimes obsolete. We’ve experienced transformations in how we receive information, how we’re entertained, how we communicate. The “podcast” we’ve been listening to every day – even that you’re reading this on this social media platform a little over a decade ago these weren’t things many of us imagined would be a part of our lives, let alone part of our daily routines.
All of that progress though sometimes makes us abandon what came before it a little too quickly. To simply judge that what is “new” has replaced the need for what came before. Sadly, for many Catholic-Christians, that has been a part of our approach towards scripture. I know when I first began studying theology, my impulse was simply to want to delve into the New Testament since I felt there was so much to learn about Jesus and wanting to know and love Him more, it seemed the natural place to reside spiritually and academically.
But as we complete this time with the Old Testament it’s good to reflect on what a true gift this time has been. Here we are over 300 days into the Bible in a year and (obviously with the exception of the Messianic checkpoints) the entirety of the Bible has been the Old Testament. We can recognize that about 75% of the “good book” is the Old Testament. For Jesus, Mary and Joseph – for their family and friends… for the apostles and first disciples, this was their only scripture. So our commitment and time that we’ve invested to this point has helped us better imagine their perspectives on God and trying to prepare their hearts for what was to come.
Hopefully we will also have a richer appreciation of how Jesus is the “word made flesh.” How he fulfills the deepest prayers, longings and dreams of God’s people. That there’s not a different God of the Old and New Testaments. But rather God was continuing to reveal Himself to His people and at the appointed time revealed Himself completely in the an unexpected gentle way, (like when Elijah in the book of First Kings doesn’t find God in the wind, the earthquake or or the fire but the still small voice) humility of Jesus, born into lowliness and poverty – yet very much God showing out in greater ways than parting seas or manna in the desert as we see the miracles, the cures, the raising of the dead, the coming back from the dead Himself.
This last day of our time with the Old Testament and as we begin our last 53 days, may we realize the truth St. Augustine observed The New Testament lies hidden in the Old; the Old is made accessible by the New – or the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen The Old Testament is like a radio with its hidden voice announcing the One to come. The New Testament is like a television because the Word became both audible and visible.