If the readings today stir up feelings of anxiety in us, well, that’s to be expected. These are not readings of comfort and peace – anything but! And that’s just how the Lectionary is arranged. Every year at the end of the Church year – which this is – we have readings about how times will end. These readings are called apocalyptic readings, and at the close of a year, it makes sense to read about the close of time.
Generally speaking, apocalyptic readings are written during times of intense persecution in the Church. It makes sense that as persecution increases, the imaginations of those being persecuted would turn toward a time when one’s enemies would be vanquished in a glorious battle, and a new time of grace would come.
But often these apocalyptic readings speak of the persecution itself, and that’s what’s happening in the book of Maccabees, which we have been hearing the last week or so. On Tuesday, old Eleazar would not give in to the unreasonable demands of Antiochus Epiphanes, even though he had been faithful his whole life long. He refused to be a cause of scandal for the young and went to his death. The same happened yesterday to the seven brothers and their mother who were all put to death. Well, today, Mattathias has had enough of all of this, and has seen one too many faithful Jews give up and give in, so he incites a revolution and gives courage to all those being persecuted.
If today these readings stir up more feelings of uneasiness than they have perhaps in the past, well, that’s easy to understand. The apostasy is catching up with us too, in these days. Persecution of Christians and the proliferation of terror and violence seems to be coming to a fever pitch – not just in Paris, or even just in Beirut or Syria, but day after day in our cities.
Understandably, we all wonder how to stay safe and stay out of harm’s way. But the truth is, living our faith is dangerous. Just ask Eleazar or the seven brothers, or Mattathias. It might seem “safe” to give up and give in to society, or even to go into hiding. But the Psalmist knows the only way to real safety and real peace: “Offer to God praise as your sacrifice / and fulfill your vows to the Most High; / Then call upon me in time of distress; / I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.”
The way to fight this spiritual battle is to find our safety where the only true safety exists: in God alone. Jesus tells us in another place that we ought not to fear those who can merely kill the body, but to fear instead the one who seeks to kill our souls (Matthew 10:28). So we believers put on the armor of faith: good works, fervent prayer, honest confession, reception of the sacraments. And then we trust in the One who alone is trustworthy: our God who gives us the only life worth living.