When [Eleazar] was about to die under the blows,
he groaned and said:
“The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that,
although I could have escaped death,
I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging,
but also suffering it with joy in my soul
because of my devotion to him.”
This is how he died,
leaving in his death a model of courage
and an unforgettable example of virtue
not only for the young but for the whole nation. (2 MC 6:30-31)
Eleazar was one of the foremost scribes of his time. He was a man of great faith and great virtue. He was a beloved leader of his people.
However, he — as indeed all the people — was subject to a king who was not of his same faith. Not only that, the king was ordering the people to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.
The choice was quite “simple”: eat meat sacrificed to idols (in short, reject the tenets of your own faith) and live or refuse to eat the meat and die.
Eleazar’s choice was just a simple.
There was no way that he was going to reject his beliefs and commit sacrilege. He would not eat the meat sacrificed to the idols.
As I said, Eleazar was respected by many. Even those who were in charge of overseeing the ritual meal respected Eleazar and did not want to see him put to death. Therefore, they gave him a choice. They told him that he could bring his own meat and “pretend” to eat meat that had been sacrificed to the idols. In doing so, he would save his life.
But, Eleazar knew the implications of that kind of decision. He knew that if he did thus, it would look as if he had sold out. It would also set an example for others to follow. They would think that Eleazar was complicit in sacrilege and if he, a leader of his people, would submit to that, so should they.
Eleazar refused to give bad example. He would rather die for his faith, for his God. And die, he did. But even in his death, he gave great witness, as we read above.
FAITH ACTION: What witness to the faith can we give to others today?