A Grieving Mother of Strength – Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
The reading from 2 Maccabees offers the illustration of a mother and her seven sons who are tortured and forced to eat unlawful swine’s flesh. But they did not give in to their torturers and thus refused to eat the pork that was set before them.
One son speaks for all of them, basically stressing what each in his turn said: What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.
We hear that the king and those with him were astonished at the spirit of the brothers (not to mention their mother!). It is good to read the entire story of this incident, not just this short excerpt. For instance, we hear in the entire account, that the mother was the most remarkable. Chapter 7 describes her as especially admirable and worthy of honourable memory. Not only did she witness seven sons die in a single day, but she also bore it with bravery.
It is just prior to the execution of the seventh and youngest son that she most strongly gives evidence of what she is made of. We hear that she addressed her sons (not the king) wondering how life came to them in her womb and she expresses confidence in the Creator who will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his law.
Toni Craven of the Jewish Women’s Archive ponders this, What mother, beholding the brutal deaths of six sons, could speak such words?
Followed by this, the seventh and youngest son also disregards the pleading of King Antiochus. He had earlier been urged by his mother to take pity on her and accept death. While she was still speaking, he asked the king what he was waiting for. I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses.
Then, like his brothers, he told the king that he will not go unpunished. The king goes into a rage and treats the seventh son worse than the others. The narrator suggests that this final son died in his integrity, putting his trust in the Lord.
We are told that the mother also died, but it is not evident how she met her end. One account in the Talmud says that she committed suicide by throwing herself down from a roof. Other accounts suggest other forms of suicide (flames) or the act of throwing herself on her sons’ corpses.
Whatever her end, that mother is remembered for her steadfastness. She gave her seven sons an example whereby they kept their faith, even if it meant execution.
The brutal efforts of King Antiochus are ineffective. The seven young men choose death rather than obedience to the laws of their ancestors. They have a strong belief in God’s mercy and the resurrection of the dead.
Craven points out that the king is the only one in the story who loses control and goes into a rage. The brothers and their mother bore their sufferings with courage. She stresses that she is the mother of a martyr family that was unified in facing death, with no husband or father offering protection.
What would it take you to stick to your principles and refuse to renounce your faith and its traditions? I’m sure that there are relatively few of us who would adamantly adhere to the laws of our ancestors. What would you die for?