1 Maccabees 2:15-29
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, honored 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 honored 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, every one 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 wilderness to live there.
Psalm 50:1-2, 5-6, 14-15
The mighty one, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
“Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
As he 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.”
God created every human soul for love and for relationship with him. If we crave peace and security, it is because God made us for these things. He created us for perfect union with him, coming to know him more and more and knowing more and more how much we are loved by him. While we are living out our lives on earth, we experience the painful separation from God caused by sin. We begin our lives not fully realizing who he is, but having the opportunity every day to grow closer to him. But since the only satisfaction to all our desires lie with him, even in the face of trials and burdens and grief, we can still find happiness in the Lord, albeit an incomplete happiness compared to the joys of heaven. Our daily goal is to make more progress toward God. Our daily goal needs to be to dedicate ourselves to him more and more. Our daily goal is to listen to him more and more. And God will grant us his peace and knowledge of his presence.
Today, as a Church, we celebrate the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We commemorate when Saints Joachim and Anne brought their daughter, Mary, to be dedicated to God in the temple. The Byzantine Church, since the 6th century, has always emphasized and celebrated this feast, as Mary was to become the greatest temple of God herself that she had dedicated her life and service to God in his temple. While Mary is the one and only God-bearer, she is also called the First Disciple. The title “first” implies that there should be more to follow. We are all called to be disciples of God, following in Mary’s example of total dedication.
When we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to God. We are struggling in our sinfulness to work according to his will. Sometimes our flesh and our sinfulness make it difficult to discern what his will is, and sometimes our flesh and our sinfulness make it difficult for us to desire to do what he is calling us to do. Sometimes our cares in this life or our surrounding circumstances make it hard to have peace. They can bring about direct conflict, as in our reading from Maccabees. But while Mattathias and his sons became engaged in an all out battle, the beginning of a rebellion against an oppressive regime, they could remain at peace in themselves, resting in the knowledge that they were faithful to God and his covenant, totally dedicated to God.
It is important to note that God’s covenant, the traditions being persecuted in the book of Maccabees, are Messianic in nature. The circumcision of the Jews began with God’s covenant with Abraham, when God promised to make him the father of many nations and a light to all the world. This promise ultimately is that through Abraham’s lineage, the Messiah would come in to the world and therefore all the world would be drawn to and saved by his light. When the Seleucid empire was trying to make the Jews throw off their traditions, it is this very covenant, their very identity, the very Messianic promise, that they are being asked to reject. But Mattathias and his sons recognize they belong to God and are dedicated to God’s covenant and no earthly ruler was going to change that. It is this very covenant and promise of God’s redemption that Jesus weeps over in the Gospel. He knows that he is on earth to fulfill the covenant, and he weeps at the rejection of salvation by Jerusalem. It is this very covenant that the psalmist recalls, revealing God as the judge of the world, rising to defend his faithful ones, coming to the aid of those who have dedicated themselves to him in the covenant.
Like Mary, we are all called to dedicate our lives to God. Unlike Mary, we are no longer awaiting the day the promised Messiah will come into the world, but rather, we are called to live out the promise, to live out our salvation every day. This total dedication to God is going to set us apart from our peers. It is going to make us distinct from those who have only worldly values of power and prestige and property. Instead, we will value God’s presence, we will value God’s laws and promises, and we will value the peace of Christ which will carry us through all of our struggles. Let us follow in Mary’s example today of total dedication to God. Let us dedicate and rededicate our lives to him and his service. Let us pray that, through his grace, we may be made lights for the world to show others how to be one with Christ. And let us always pray that God keep us safe through our trials and ultimately bring us to total union with him when this life is over.