2 Maccabees 7:1, 20-31
In the midst of the indescribable horror of seeing her seven sons mercilessly slain by the tyrant king because they would not deny God’s law, the grieving mother speaks to her one remaining son with a grace and acceptance that is staggering:
I do not know how you came into existence in my womb;
It was not I who gave you the breath of life,
Nor was it I who set in order
The elements of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe
Who shapes each man’s beginning,
as he brings about the origin of everything,
he, in his mercy,
will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.
Who could make this sacrifice, trust so completely, except someone who has turned over her own life-body, mind and soul-so fully to the Mystery that is God? And just as the mother has chosen to let go of her sons rather than ask them to deny the One who truly created them, they, too, have chosen to honor their God, even though it will cost them their very lives. Yes, all are making a choice: the mother to endure immeasurable pain, and the sons to embrace death. Each will lose life as they have known it, but they will not lose their souls.
It is a powerful truth to know that God has given us this beautiful gift called life, but we are called to be one with the Giver rather than the gift. This doesn’t mean, as the Gospel’s parable reveals, that how we live our life is unimportant; that we can simply play it safe, or not nourish and grow what God has given us. Jesus tells us very clearly that in our relationship to God, out of our faith, we must take a chance. Only we can multiply those "gold coins" that have, by the grace of God, come into our life.
In 1989, six Jesuits were killed in El Salvador. It was a time of terrible political bloodshed in that country; certainly the priests could have fled to safety. But like many religious and courageous lay people, too, they stayed in solidarity and service, and paid for their goodness with their lives. They lived life bravely, using their talents for good, but in the end, they could not hold onto life; it was not theirs, but God’s.
The Gospel’s parable ends with the king slaying those who did not believe in him, as kings of that time might do. But in a metaphoric sense, to have no belief in God is to risk spiritual death. We walk away from God at our peril. When we believe, as the mother and sons did from Scripture, as the Jesuits did in contemporary life, we are promised a different kind of life, one that does not end but lives on through eternity.
Nancy Nickel is the director of marketing and communications at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.