Memory of the Church

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Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

I am the good shepherd,
my sheep listen to my voice,
and they become
one flock and one fold.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

1 Maccabees 2, 15-29

The king's commissioners who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein for the sacrifices.

Many Israelites gathered round them, but Mattathias and his sons drew apart.

The king's commissioners then addressed Mattathias as follows, 'You are a respected leader, a great man in this town; you have sons and brothers to support you.

Be the first to step forward and conform to the king's decree, as all the nations have done, and the leaders of Judah and the survivors in Jerusalem; you and your sons shall be reckoned among the Friends of the King, you and your sons will be honoured with gold and silver and many presents.'

Raising his voice, Mattathias retorted, 'Even if every nation living in the king's dominions obeys him, each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees,

I, my sons and my brothers will still follow the covenant of our ancestors.

May Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law and its observances.

As for the king's orders, we will not follow them: we shall not swerve from our own religion either to right or to left.'

As he finished speaking, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein as the royal edict required.

When Mattathias saw this, he was fired with zeal; stirred to the depth of his being, he gave vent to his legitimate anger, threw himself on the man and slaughtered him on the altar.

At the same time he killed the king's commissioner who was there to enforce the sacrifice, and tore down the altar.

In his zeal for the Law he acted as Phinehas had against Zimri son of Salu.

Then Mattathias went through the town, shouting at the top of his voice, 'Let everyone who has any zeal for the Law and takes his stand on the covenant come out and follow me.'

Then he fled with his sons into the hills, leaving all their possessions behind in the town.

Many people who were concerned for virtue and justice went down to the desert and stayed there,


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The emissaries of King Antiochus arrived in Modin, the city where Mattathias found refuge, and, being aware of Mattathias’ authority, called on him to make sacrifice to pagan idols as an example to convince the entire people to accept the new pagan cult. They even offered him the title "friend of the king," as well as gold, silver and gifts of Tyrian dye. This insidious proposal shows the danger that power and wealth have always represented. The author has already written that they were the reason why Antiochus Epiphanes sacked the temple (1:21-23) and the tool to buy the Jews as slaves (3:41). The Tyrian dye offered to Mattathias, that had become the symbol of the imperial power due to the special dying process with which it was woven, symbolized the honour granted to him. Before this proposal, which implied the apostasy of God, Mattathias answered with disdain, "Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, every one of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors" (19-20). The covenant with the Lord was conceived as solid company for life, a real "friendship," surely more solid and safer than that of the king. Mattathias claims this covenant with God with strong determination. The disdain for what he and his people are asked for is so deep that when he sees a Jewish person ready to sacrifice, he runs toward him and kills him. Mattathias seems to sacrifice in his way: he kills a Jew who was about to make sacrifice on the altar. The sacred author recalls the episode similar to the one regarding Phineas, son of Eleazar and nephew of Aaron, who used a sword to kill a Jew and a Midianite prostitute he dared to allow into the settlement (Num 25) —an event recalled other times in Scripture. The confirmation of the high priesthood for his family is connected to this event. In truth, Moses too, in a fit of anger, did something similar: he killed an Egyptian to defend his countryman (Ex 2:11). The author seems to justify Mattathias, saying "Thus he burned with zeal for the law" (v. 26). The "zeal" is reiterated many times regarding those who are faithful to the Lord. It is certainly difficult to conceive such a justification through the lens of the New Testament. The Gospel in which Jesus chased the peddlers out of the Temple out of zeal for the house of the Lord comes to mind. After this terrible act Mattathias goes throughout the city calling "out loud" all the people with the same zeal he had for the Lord’s cause, so that they reunite together for a religious revival. Together with these followers he abandoned the city and all the goods he had and hid in the mountains so that there he could build a new people faithful to God around the purity of the Law.