I remember, as a child, learning about the early Christians who were persecuted for their faith and nevertheless stood steadfast and strong in God. I remember feeling jealous because the early Christians had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution. Growing up Catholic in a Catholic community, at a time when stores and businesses were still closed on Sundays, when religion appeared to be a part of everyone’s life and the country still appeared to trust in God, I thought the days of Christians being persecuted were long gone. How wrong I was. I am no longer jealous of the early Christians because they had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution (unfortunately, I think that opportunity is now more widely available), now I am jealous because the early Christians had the strength to remain strong in the face of persecution.
Tonight the Bible opened to Maccabees. At the time, the Jews were being persecuted. But one man, Mattathias stood strong:
The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them sacrifice. Many of Israel joined them, but Mattathias and his sons drew together. Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias: “You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city, supported by sons and kindred. Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command, as all the Gentiles and Judeans and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends, and you and your sons shall be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”
But Mattathias answered in a loud voice: “Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him, so that they forsake the religion of their ancestors and consent to the king’s orders, yet I and my sons and my kindred will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. Heaven forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments. We will not obey the words of the king by departing from our religion in the slightest degree.”
1 Maccabees 2:15-22
Throughout the ages, humans have been persecuted for following God. Upon his death, Mattathias told his sons:
And so, consider this from generation to generation, that none who hope in Heaven shall fail in strength.
Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms. Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.
Children! be courageous and strong in keeping the law, for by it you shall be honored.
1 Maccabees 2:61-64
These words struck me: “Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms. Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.” A little bit more powerful than the old sticks and stones saying.
If we believe in God… If we hope in God and the promise of eternal life… Why do we allow the words of sinners, or the pressure of their earthly glory to get to us? When we do, we show our weakness, we show our doubt, we show our fear. Do we doubt God’s promises? Do we doubt God’s existence? NO! We can be strong knowing that no matter the persecution here on earth, no matter the hurtful words of sinners or earthly promises they may make, their glory is fleeting, and ends in corruption and worms. Our glory is eternal (and worm-free). Our glory is with God.
None who hope in heaven shall fail in strength.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show my faith in the face of persecution. Help me to be strong in my faith. Help me to be courageous and steadfast, whether I am surrounded by sinners or your faithful followers. Help me to cast my weakness, doubt and fear away, so that true knowledge can fill their place. True knowledge of your love and your promise of everlasting life.