Monday, November 16, 2015

Taking a Stand

Tomorrow's readings are quite interesting.  The reading from the book of Maccabees shows us the story of an elderly man who is being forced to go against his religion.  During this time Antiochus Epiphanes was persecuting the Jews and trying to force them to join a state sanctioned religion.  Antiochus wanted to unite his kingdom by creating a common religion, getting rid of anything foreign or different.  Eleazar was a Jew, and they were forcing him to eat pork.  This was abhorrent to him.  He spit it out and was condemned to death for doing so.  His friends tried to convince him that he should hide some kosher meat in his pocket and when they wanted to see him eat the pork, slip some of the kosher stuff in and pretend.

Eleazer realized that by doing something like that, those who saw him might think he actually ate the pork.  He did not want to become a stumbling block to others causing them to fall as well, so he refused.  Then his friends turned angry.  They not only felt he was crazy for dying for his faith, but they probably felt inside the conviction that they had failed to do the same.  We often see that with many things in life.  One of the sayings in Wisdom we studied the other day is that a good man is often seen as obnoxious to those around him.  Just his presence can cause those who are living wrong to feel convicted.

Have you seen that before?  You are standing talking to someone who knows you are religious and they drop the F-bomb, and then they apologize to you for doing it in front of you?  Or they send you an email, an email they'd have no problem to send that email to anyone else, then you get another email blushingly declaring their sorrow for having offended you.  People see those who are doing what they believe to be right, and they begin to feel convicted, even if you never say a word. 

I think that is part of the message we see in the Gospel reading too.  Zaccheus has just done something most others aren't willing to do.  He took a stand, literally up in a tree!  He went up to where he needed to be to encounter Christ.  In the process Christ comes to his house and declares that Zaccheus has received salvation this day!  Before he hears this though, Zaccheus does something that shows he has had a change of heart.   He declares “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” 

Many people later condemned Jesus for this sort of behavior.  For going into the homes of tax collectors and sinners.   I think for some of them they probably were a bit jealous too.  Not just of Jesus going to those homes instead of to theirs... but also of Zaccheus who did what they should have been doing.  I think that his actions caused conviction in their hearts.  Here was the 'other'.  Their they.  The sinner.  They were supposed to be holy.  Yet, they held on to their money with a tight fist.  Here was the one who they wanted to condemn and convict.. and he was giving up half of everything he owned!  How that must have stung their hearts? 

It struck me too that tomorrow is the feast day of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.  Here is another person who took a stand.  She took her wealth and used it to help others.  Much like Zaccheus she had an open hand, often to the chagrin of those around her, giving away food and money.  When her husband died she renounced the world and went into serving Jesus full time. 

What can we learn from these two men and one holy woman?  I think we can learn a very important lesson.  First that we must take a stand, and second that sometimes the stand is not where we expect it to be.   All of Eleazer's friends expected him to take the easy way out.  They were willing to help him fool others so that his conscious was still clear, but that he would not have to die.  He took a stand.  He died for his faith, for his God.  Society expected one thing, he went with God instead.

Zaccheus was a tax collector.  He had money, wealth, comfort.   Everyone who was like him probably expected him to just stay wealthy, they thought him crazy for giving it all up.  Those who were 'religious' saw him as the sinner.  The last thing they expected from a man like him, the chief of the tax collectors, was conversion and generosity.  He took a stand. Society expected one thing, he went with God instead.

Saint Elizabeth was a princess, rich and wealthy.  She was queen by the age of 14.  Everyone would have expected her to have others do her bidding.  Even in her generosity, they might have expected her to hand the money out or to send a servant to deliver it.  Instead we hear legends of her running out of the palace towards the commons with her apron full of loaves of bread!  Society expected one thing, she went with God instead.

We have a unique opportunity today.  With everything going on in the world, from France to Africa, we see people in need.  There is a great level of fear towards those refugees.  Some of them could very well be plants, people who wish harm to others.  Others though are just mothers, fathers, daughters, sons.  People in need.  Starving and simply trying to get away from persecution.  Society wants us to turn our backs on all of them.  They want us to simply desire our comfort, stay where we are, and protect ourselves.  Part of me wants to fear too.   Part of me wants to say, you know?  I want to protect my family, my country, my friends.  I do.  At the same time, there are other people out there who need food. Who need shelter.  Who need love.   Society wants us to do one thing.. but what does God want us to do? 

I don't have an answer for you.. but I do know this.  Sometimes, like Zaccheus, we need to get a change of perspective.  If we truly want to see Jesus, we need to climb a tree.  We need to change our vantage point because down here on earth, we simply cannot see him for all the other things in our way.  We need to spend time opening our hearts to Jesus.  During this time of thanksgiving, as we approach a holiday in which we are to give thanks for all that we have... recall that the very word Eucharist means 'thanksgiving.'  Spend more time in prayer, receive the sacraments as frequently as possible, and seek out some time alone with Christ in adoration.  Ask him to come to your house today, and try to see this situation from a different view point.  We have so much to give thanks for... how would we feel if our world was taken out from under our feet?  If our children were starving?  If we feared for our lives and all of the countries that might offer us a glimmer of hope had closed their borders, leaving us with no where to turn? 

His servant and yours,
In Christ,