“Would you prefer to be subjected to severe afflictions now and later enter heaven, or have an extremely sweet life on earth and never make it to heaven?”
To the above question, many of us would choose middle option. We would prefer not to have severe afflictions and not to live in too much pleasure, but make it to heaven at last. But what if the only opportunity we have to enter heaven is by going through severe afflictions? What if there’s no middle option for us? Do you know that some people never had the opportunity of a middle option? It was either they renounced their faith and lived or upheld it and died.
One of such persons was Eleazar. He was a Jew living in Jerusalem. He was an old man, already ninety. He loved God and obeyed the word of God. He was a mentor of young people and a great influencer of destinies. It came to pass that the king wanted to abolish Judaism and all Jewish practices. He wanted to transfer the Jewish people into Paganism. He wanted to drag them into abominable acts and contaminate their faith. He coerced them into pagan acts, and those who resisted were massacred.
This was the foundation to the martyrdom of Eleazar. He was captured and compelled to eat the flesh of swine (It was against their religious practice to eat such). He was targeted because of his age, position and reputation among his people. It was strategic. The enemy knew his decision would affect his younger generation. So they attacked him.
They persuaded him, using all tactics, but he didn’t budge. The enemy resorted to the last option, which was taking him aside privately, and asking that flesh of swine be brought for him to eat, so that he could pretend to have eaten, just as the king had commanded. But Eleazar stood his ground and refused such pretentious display saying:
“For it is not worthy for those of our age, to deceive, so that many adolescents might think that Eleazar, at ninety years, had converted to the life of the foreigners. And so, they, because of my pretense and for the sake of a brief time of a corruptible life, would be misled, and, through this stain and desecration, I would defile my last years. But if, in the present time, I were rescued from the torments of men, I would then not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither in life, nor in death. For this reason, by departing life with fortitude, I will show myself to be clearly worthy of my long life. And so, I will bequeath an example of fortitude to youths, if, with a ready soul and constancy, I carry out an honest death, for the sake of the most serious and most holy laws.”
I observed his response and singled out three things that Eleazar considered:
- He considered God and what he would say. He didn’t want to offend God. He saw sin as evil. He preferred to die than to betray God. A similar faith was exhibited by St Polycarp when he was asked to deny Jesus. Read what he said: “86 years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” This reminds me of our dear sister Leah Sharibu, a 14-year old girl kidnapped by Boko Haram, who refused to deny Jesus. Examples abound of people who loved God so much that they couldn’t betray him, most of whom died in the process.
Prompt: The next time you’re about to commit sin, think about God.
- He considered other people’s faith. Eleazar was particularly concerned about how his decision would impact on the young people. He saw himself as a living example. He believed that all eyes were on him and he couldn’t be the reason for anyone’s fall. He preferred to pay the price for stronger faith and commitment among God’s people. He was determined to bequeath an example of fortitude to the young people.
Prompt: The next time you’re about to commit sin, think about the faith of people who believe in you.
- He considered his integrity. He had lived right his whole life. He just couldn’t imagine that he, of all people, would do such abominable thing. He couldn’t bring himself so low. He just couldn’t. Never! He preferred to die than do such. He wanted to leave a clean track behind. He said he would show himself worthy of the long life he was given, by making the best choice in the most critical moment.
Prompt: The next time you’re about to commit sin, think about who you are in Christ.
In the final analysis, the man Eleazar was a man with heroic faith. He was a man who prevailed against oppositions, and who had trained his physical body to comply with the desires of his soul. He was focused, determined and unwavering. He was out to please God at all costs, even at the cost of his blood. He stands as an example to us. Though he died a long time ago, he lives on. He lived not only in those young people he mentored, but in all who would read about him and be inspired by his faith. He lives on in you and in me.
“The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”
Lord, give us the faith to hold on to you, to cling firmly to you and never let you go. May no affliction, pain or frustration shake our resolves. In life and death, O Lord, we belong to you. Amen.
(C) Fr. Stan-Collins Ubaka @2019, 19th Nov.