In the first reading today from 2 Maccabees, Eleazar is faced with a most difficult choice. Should he eat the pork which is being force fed to him in opposition to his religious beliefs, or should he refuse and submit himself to torture and death?
Some of his friends advocated that he pretend that he was eating the pork in order to save himself, a tactic that Eleazar utterly rejected. Instead, he chose to accept torture and death, sacrificing his life for his beliefs as an example to others. God’s law was more important to him than this transient life. It is a powerful lesson to all of us.
The passage causes me to reflect on how, in our modern age, the concept of sacrificing our own life for our beliefs and the good of others seems to be no longer thought a virtue, unless it is done by somebody other than us. In this culture we live in of me, me, me, many people can’t imagine a circumstance where they would sacrifice their life, for any reason.
It hasn’t always been this way. As an example, at the onset of World War II, many young men lied about their age and physical condition in order to be enlisted so that they could fight, and even die, to protect and defend their country. What are the chances of those things happening today? Has sacrifice gone out of style? And most importantly, how do we understand the sacrifice of Jesus, and can we follow him, when our hearts are not open to giving our lives for the gospel?