Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Faith that takes a stand

I noticed an interesting connection between the first reading (1 Maccabees) and the Gospel (Luke 19) today, even though on first glance, the characters in each story couldn't have seemed more different.
Back in the days of the Maccabees, history's first-ever religious persecution was unfolding. Naturally, the Jewish people (with their distinctive religious practices and their unwillingness to let the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" be added to the local pantheon) were the targets. The goal of the persecution wasn't so much punishing the Jews, but getting each person to make some kind of concession to the local religion. A merely external act of conformity, that's all. Eat a little pork, burn a little incense. Nothing really drastic.
And in the case of old Eleazar, the officials bent the rules even more. They were so eager to have Eleazar's name on the roster, they were going to let him bring his own "pork" (no matter what animal it came from), so he could eat it publicly without actually breaking the kosher laws. It was a win-win situation!
In the Gospels, the story unfolds in a very different manner. The key character is not a law-abiding elder in the community, but a despised public sinner: the ignoble tax collector, Zacchaeus. He is not being called on to compromise his faith, but to claim it. And, just as in Eleazar's case, there is a crowd there, watching everything.
When Eleazar rejected the compromise he was offered, the crowd turned against him.
When Zacchaeus rejected the compromise he had been living with (for how long?), the crowd turned against Jesus!
In both cases, the protagonist did what no one expected. They acted on their faith at a great cost, proving themselves "children of Abraham," the "man of faith."
Isn't that manly faith just what our culture needs most?

Here's a contemporary call to men to take a stand in a crucial situation.

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