Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs.
At most of this week’s Masses, the First Reading is taken from the Old Testament books of Maccabees. These books describe the persecution and perseverance of the Jewish people. While the particular persecution that they faced may not seem relatable, we need very much in our day to relate to the perseverance that they demonstrated.
In today’s First Reading, the king of Greece “wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, and many children of Israel were in favor of his religion”. The parallel of this situation to the plight of Christians in the United States today is clear.
Today’s passage ends focusing on those Jews “who preferred to die rather than to be defiled… and they did die. Terrible affliction was upon Israel.” But we ought to be clear on what leads to this affliction: the demand for a people to be falsely united.
To what extent may a government demand that a religious body of persons conform their teachings, practices and rituals to a norm established by and in support of that government? The conflicts in this week’s readings from the Books of Maccabees will help us reflect on this important question.