Today’s first reading (11/22/17, 33rd Wednesday in Ordinary Time, Year One) continues on the same struggle as yesterday’s first reading. Yesterday, Eleazar, a 90 year old man who remained faithful to the Jewish customs was being forced to choose between being executed for failing to follow the king’s (Gentile) ways or to eat the pork forbidden for the Jews. This story was written about 100 years before Jesus (who “declared all foods clean” Mark 7:19) so the prohibition against eating pork was still in effect and could not be changed by ordinary human beings. Eleazar chose to refuse the pork to remain a faithful Jew and not lead others astray.
Today we hear part of the story of a Jewish woman with seven sons who were also being forced to eat pork. They refused. Today’s portion of the story happens when only the last of the sons and the mother survive. They too hold fast to the Jewish faith and refuse to eat the pork.
As Jews, it was clear to them from the Torah in what we know as the Old Testament that they were not to eat pork. On the other side, we might wonder why the king cared if they eat pork. I suspect it was centered not so much on any belief that required eating pork. It was likely about power and control. If the king could get them to eat the pork like so many other Jews who were abandoning their faith during the time of Maccabees were doing, it would strengthen the king’s position. He could say that if these faithful Jews would change their ways, then all other Jews could do the same thing.
Today, eating pork is not a concern for us as Jesus “declared all foods clean.” However, we are pressured in other areas to abandon what our faith teaches. Today we are expected by some to accept behaviors prohibited in the scriptures like same-sex attraction. If we speak against such things, we are accused of hate speech. Now, there is a right way and a wrong way to speak up for what we believe. If we do it the right way, it is based on our love for them and concern that they do not live as God teaches.
Does hate speech happen about such behaviors? Yes, and it must stop. That doesn’t justify banning all “speech” about it. For those who want to ban all of it, I think back to the power and control issue I mentioned with regards to our first reading. Today, it might not be about government power but people want to have it their way. If no one can speak against them, then it can make them look right. If they are so sure they are right, then why are they not willing to engage in honest dialogue about whatever their stance is on whatever their issue might be. Are they afraid they are wrong?
Let us always work to grow in our understanding of God’s teaching and to know when we are to speak up and have the courage to do so.