About John Lilburne
1206 L Tue 20 Nov 2001
For today's Mass the first reading is 2 Maccabees 6:18-31.
Here is the text from the Australian lectionary, which uses the
Eleazar, one of the foremost teachers of the Law, a man already
advanced in years and of most noble appearance, was being forced
to open his mouth wide to swallow pig's flesh. But he, resolving
to die with honour rather than to live disgraced, went to the
block of his own accord, spitting the stuff out, the plain duty
of anyone with the courage to reject what it is not lawful to
taste, even from a natural tenderness for his own life. Those
in charge of the impious banquet, because of their long-standing
friendship with him, took him aside and privately urged him to
have meat brought of a kind he could properly use, prepared by
himself, and only pretend to eat the portions of sacrificial
meat as prescribed by the king; this action would enable him
to escape death, by availing himself of an act of kindness prompted
by their long friendship. but having taken a noble decision worthy
of his years and the dignity of his great age and the well earned
distinction of his gray hairs, worthy too of his impeccable conduct
from boyhood, and above all of the the holy legislation established
by God himself, he publicly stated his convictions, telling them
to send him at once to Hades. 'Such pretence' he said 'does not
square with out time of life; many young people would suppose
that Eleazar at the age of ninety had conformed to the foreigners'
way of life, and because I had played this part for the sake
of a paltry brief spell of life might themselves be led astray
on my account; I should only bring defilement and disgrace on
my old age. Even though for the moment I avoid execution by man,
I can never, living or dead, elude the grasp of the Almighty.
Therefore if I am man enough to quit this life here and now I
shall prove myself worthy of my old age, and I shall have left
the young a noble example of how to make a good death, eagerly
and generously, for the venerable and holy laws.'
With these words he went straight to the block. His escorts,
so recently well disposed towards him, turned against him after
this declaration, which they regarded as sheer madness. Just
before he died under the blows, he groaned aloud and said, 'The
Lord whose knowledge is holy sees clearly that, though I might
have escaped death, whatever agonies of body I now endure under
this bludgeoning, in my soul I am glad to suffer, because of
the awe which he inspires in me.'
This was how he died, leaving his death as an example of nobility
and a record of virtue not only for the young but for the great
majority of the nation.
What does it bring to mind for me? Death before dishonour.
Martyrdom as rational choice. The importance in the motivation
of individuals of example.
Groups form in society with particular stigmas. People make
clear that they are members of a group e.g. skin-heads, goths.
They can be identified by ties, high heels, uniforms, etc.
Dietary laws are often used in religious groups. The Catholic
Church is an example. According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law:
1250. The days and times of penance for the universal Church
are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
1251. Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined
by the Bishops' Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays,
unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting
are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
1252. The law of abstinence binds those who have completed
their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have
attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth
year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those
who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting
and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
1253. The Bishops' Conference can determine more particular
ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place
of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part,
other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises
Not the clearest of legislation. 1251 there is to be abstinence,
1253 the bishops can decide not to have abstinence. But as a
whole it seems to recommend abstinence, but leaves the decision
to the Conference of Bishops.
Divisions occur over stigmas. The passage highlights some
of the divisions: Catholics accept Maccabees as part of the Bible,
most other Christians do not. From the Gospel of Mark 7:19 we
have the comment on what Jesus says "(Thus he declared all
foods clean.)". But the Council at Jerusalem highlights
there was "no small dissension and debate" (Acts 15:2)
But there will be groups in society. These will be based on
the actions of individuals, such as Eleazar.
Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 20 November 2001.