The first passage in today’s post comes from the Second Book of Maccabees:
18 Elea′zar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh. 19 But he, welcoming death with honor rather than life with pollution, went up to the the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, 20 as men ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
21 Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal which had been commanded by the king, 22 so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them. 23 But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs which he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.
24 “Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,” he said, “lest many of the young should suppose that Elea′zar in his ninetieth year has gone over to an alien religion, 25 and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they should be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. 26 For even if for the present I should avoid the punishment of men, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. 27 Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age 28 and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”
(2 Maccabees 6:18-28)
The central message there neatly ties into a message that St. Paul conveys in his Letter to the Romans:
14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean. 15 If your brother is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; 18 he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; 21 it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves. 23 But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
It is not enough that we consider our own faith, but we must also keep in mind the faith of our brethren as well. This is sometimes easy for us to overlook. Not everyone might be as capable of resisting sin and temptation. Others might lack the discipline or confidence in faith that we ourselves enjoy. Hence, it is imperative that by our faith we not only do no wrong, but also do right. And we do right by building one another up in faith and love and charity.
Finally, I close today’s post with the Gospel of John:
On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. 3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Most of the time when this particular passage is discussed people tend to focus on debating whether Mary was in the wrong or not. Unfortunately, an important message gets lost in that debate. Namely, the command that Mary gives to the servants, i.e., us- “Do whatever he tells you.” This, I think, is the ultimate message of that particular passage. We are all commanded to do whatever Jesus tells us to do. Mary was chosen to give this message (in more ways than one) in large part because she was the first of those who witnessed Him and knew Him better than anyone else. She knew, without understanding, that Jesus should be obeyed. In time she did understand, and so do we all now. We all know to do whatever He tells us, even though we may not fully understand why at any given time. Understanding will come, eventually, whether it be in our lifetimes or at the final unveiling of God’s plan. In the meantime we obey.