Bible Meditation: Persecuted Theologians

Sunday, November 6, 2022, four texts will be read.
First Reading: Second Book of the Martys of Israel
(2 M 7, 1-2.9-14).
Psalm 16.
Second Reading: Second Letter to the Thessalonians
(2 Thess 2, 16 – 3, 5).
The Gospel according to Saint Luke (Lk 20, 27-38).

Martyrs of Israel (or Maccabees) 7, 1-2.9-14

In those days, seven brothers had been arrested along with their mother.
With whips and blackjack,
King Antiocos wanted to force them to eat pork, a forbidden meat.
One of them made himself their spokesman and declared:
“What do you want to know about us?
We are ready to die
rather than transgressing the laws of our fathers. »
The second brother said to him, as he breathed his last:
“You are a villain, you who tear us away from this present life,
but since we die in fidelity to his laws,
the King of the world will raise us up to eternal life. »
After that, the third was put to the torture.
He stuck out his tongue as soon as he was ordered.
and he presented his hands intrepidly, declaring nobly:
“I got these limbs from Heaven,
but because of his laws I despise them,
and it is through him that I hope to find them. »
The king and his retinue were stricken
of the greatness of soul of this young man
which counted for nothing the sufferings.
When he was dead,
the fourth brother was subjected to the same abuse.
On the point of expiring, he spoke thus:
“Better to die by the hands of men,
when we wait for the resurrection promised by God,
while you will not know the resurrection for life. »

The historical context

Our text, terrible as it is, has been “redacted” for liturgical reading, of its most violent passages. The spokesperson for the brothers and their mother who is the first to address the king is thus condemned to have his tongue cut out, the skin of his head torn off, his hands and feet cut off before being cooked, still alive. , on overheated grills.

Why this overflow of torture? We are at IIe century BC. After the death of Alexander the Great, the gigantic empire he conquered is divided between his main lieutenants. One of them, Antiochus, and his descendants obtain a territory that extends from present-day Turkey to the outskirts of India. In this immense agglomeration of peoples is little Judea.

A family of resisters

Faced with the invasion of Greek culture and the religious mixing that accompanied it, Jews wanted to remain faithful to the God of their ancestors and refused compromises and amalgams with the ambient religions. A family related to the priests of Jerusalem, the Maccabees (whose name may mean “Hammer”) leads and federates the resistance to the Antiochus dynasty.

They refuse to accept a lifestyle they disapprove of and to renounce their faith in the one God. We only have excerpts from the words of four of them; it would be welcome to read all the words of the seven brothers and their mother who are of great theological richness. Faced with the risk of seeing the ancient faith in the unique and creator God disappear, faced with the threat of atrocious tortures, the members of this family are as if revealed, cornered as they are to express the depths of their lived, living faith. And in fact, as rarely in the Old Testament, they testify with essential words of this Lord in whom they put their faith and of what is the life that he gives.

The fullness of a life that we do not yet know

This God is not one among others: he is the only one, the ” King of the world “, which is an exceptional way of conceiving divinity in a world where a multitude of gods are adored. This uniqueness also makes everyone unique before him; each brother here speaks on his own behalf and gives a personal testimony of his relationship to God. And then the faith in a resurrection is affirmed in a surprisingly clear way.

The Master of Life gives life to those who lived by his Word and who died to remain faithful to him. The sufferings of their bodies make the “doctrine” of the resurrection concrete, truly incarnate: their flouted flesh will be returned to them, in the fullness of a life that we sense without yet knowing it.

It is necessary to read, after our passage, the remarks of the mother; it teaches that life, both before it comes into a body and after it leaves the flesh, belongs to God. A God who gives this life and gives it back to those who have received it with gratitude and know how to return it with confidence.

After the Books of the Maccabees will be composed the Book of Wisdom which begins with the figure of the just man: persecuted, he knows that his life is in the hand of God and that “his hope is full of immortality”. In the wake of these works then come the Gospels…

Philippe Lefebvre is a Dominican friar, professor of Old Testament at the Faculty of Theology of Friborg (Switzerland) and member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. He notably published Joseph, the eloquence of a taciturn (Salvator) and The Bible’s Intrusive Words on the Family (Stag). He just published how to kill jesus (Stag).

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Bible Meditation: Persecuted Theologians

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