Well, the story we started to hear in yesterday’s first reading about Israel has festered a bit. You may remember yesterday that king Antiochus Epiphanes began to lead the people to follow the ways of the Gentiles: covering over their circumcision, attending schools in the Gentile way of life, abandoning the holy laws. In today’s reading, it’s getting real. Eleazar the scribe, in his nineties, is being forced to eat pork in violation of the law. When he refuses to do so, some of those who know and respect him urge him to pretend to eat it so as to escape punishment.
But Eleazar is a man of wisdom, and he knows that if he pretends to violate the law to save his life, he will be leading others astray. Those of lesser years than he would be led to scandal and sin because of him. He may save his life, but theirs would be forever ruined on his account. Not to mention, he would lose his life with God.
What we are hearing in the book of Maccabees these days is that there is something more important than our own lives. Life is sacred and a wonderful gift, but it is completely meaningless if we live it at the cost of our spiritual lives. And when it comes right down to it, is that really living at all?
Martyrs throughout the ages have given witness to the fact that there is something more, that this life is not all we have. For Eleazar it was the law. For Christian martyrs it is Jesus Christ. But it is always, always about God who made us for himself, who created us to be reasonably happy in this life, but supremely happy with him forever in the next.