In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: "Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us." The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the way of living of the Gentiles.
Judah was overrun by Assyrian, Babylonian and Greek armies in the seventh, fifth, and third centuries before Christ and would not enjoy sovereign nation status again until 1948, when it was established as the nation of Israel. Although Jews continued to occupy the city throughout all those centuries theirs faith was celebrated as a private religion; it was not the state religion.
The several books of Maccabees recalls their efforts in the third century bce to throw off their Greek oppressors and regain their freedom as a nation. They fought valiantly for Freedom of Religion long before the First Amendment of the American Constitution.
Today's first reading from 1 Maccabees describes a situation that might be familiar to many Christians today. If we believe our American culture was basically Christian, it has apparently been invaded and overrun by strange, foreign influences. Marriage has been redefined as friendship with privileges; once-welcome immigrants are despised as illegal; suicide is socially acceptable; avarice and greed are admired as virtues; and most Americans think they are oppressed, minority victims: we are strangers in our homeland.
The Books of Maccabees describe the violent rebellion of Jews against their oppressors. That is always an option for victims. Anger, aggression and violence, like dancing cobras, have their own fascinating appeal. Karpman's triangle drama describes the tortured allemandes and do-sa-dos of victims who become tormentors who become rescuers and victims again. There's little grace in that square dance.
Jesus was never a victim. He freely chose the frailty, vulnerability, guilt and shame of our humanity and preferred his human nature to all the splendor of heaven. His approach to Jerusalem, his arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion were intentional acts. His betrayer, accusers and tormentors also played their parts, willingly and energetically; but these were parts assigned by the Lord who scripted the entire drama. Pontius Pilate, in John's account, shows some reluctance but his hand is forced by the mob, the leaders of the people, and his fear of Caesar.
Christians cannot play the victim card; it's not dealt to us. Rather, we embrace every opportunity to announce God's mercy to friends and foes, in season and out of season. That mercy is unfailingly courteous; it recognizes and respects the anguish of enemies of the Gospel. They do not know what they are doing. Had they known the mystery they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
The Books of Maccabees recall the military struggle which enjoyed limited success; but our liturgical readings highlight the heroic struggle of the Elder Eleazar (tomorrow's reading) and the Widowed Mother (on Wednesday). These champions would not compromise to save their lives despite the pleading of their enemies!
I don't suppose we're approaching another age of Christian martyrs in the United States. The Catholic and Protestant churches are well regarded on all sides. Our challenge is to address those among us who would call themselves minorities and victims and invite them to more courageous action.