Sometimes an event will linger with me throughout the day, into the next. Yesterday, I had such an event. It was the Old Testament reading at mass, 2 Maccabees.
The passage was about a prominent scribe, Eleazar, who Syrians agents were trying to force to eat pork. The Syrians were occupying Israel, and decreed Israel abandon her Jewish culture and adapt the culture of the Greeks. The agents presented Eleazar with face saving ways. For example, Eleazar could provide the meat himself, so that it would only appear like he ate pork. But Elearzar declined. He realized that such an appearance would present scandal, particularly to the young. The passage is included below for those who would like to read it in its entirety.
Each of us will be presented with situations to eat the pork of the culture. Will we like Eleazar decline to partake of the cultural pork? Will our actions present scandal, or not?
Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life. Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades! “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”
He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation. 2 Maccabees 6:18-31