Day 298: The Gift of Life

The Second Book of Maccabees

Author and Date:

  • The anonymous author of the Second Book of Maccabees used an unusual and highly personable style to express the religious significance of events that took place during the early years of the Maccabean revolt.

  • He stated explicitly that his book was in part a summary of a five-volume history composed by Jason of Cyrene (a series about which nothing else is known), and he had access to certain letters that he published verbatim at the outset of his book.

  • The inspired author wrote in Greek in the late second century BC, perhaps as late as 100 BC.


  • The Greek composition of the Second Book of Maccabees would suggest that it was aimed toward the Hellenized Jews of the Diaspora, possibly living in Egypt, to whom the opening letter was addressed, in part to explain and promote the celebration of the Feast of Hanukkah (“Dedication”), which arose as a celebration during the revolt to commemorate the rededication of the Temple.

Main Themes:

  • The Sacred Author took his narrative from history with the intent to instruct and persuade his readers regarding the religious meaning of events during the Maccabean revolt.

  • His history was selective to suit his purpose, and his editorial comments provide clear context as to his interpretation of events as they took place.

  • A major focus of his religious theme is the Law and specifically the Temple; thus, the cleansing of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus after its profanation by corrupt high priests stands as a key event that takes up a bulk of the book (cf. 3:1-10:8).

  • A major theme of the book is the value of human life, and the author elevates the virtue of martyrdom for the faith.

  • Earthly life, however precious, is oriented toward eternal life, so to suffer and die for the faith rather than renounce God and his Law is a sacred act (cf. 7:9).

  • This is among the most explicit Old Testament references to the resurrection of the dead, a hope that would be confirmed a few generations later in the preaching of Christ.

  • Here also we see evidence of the Communion of Saints in the offering of prayers and sacrifices for the dead (cf. 12:38-46); this passage also provides scriptural support for the Church’s teaching on Purgatory, prayer for the dead, and indulgences.

(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

2 Maccabees 1-15 This book offers a strongly religious and moral perspective on the events covered in the first seven chapters of the First Book of Maccabees. Both books take liberties with the order of events to accentuate particular points desired by the author.

Ch 1:1-9 The first two chapters of this book form a foreword and a preface. The first section is a letter from the Jews in Jerusalem to the Jewish community in Egypt, urging them to observe the Law faithfully, especially the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, which commemorated the return of true worship in Jerusalem following the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus in 164 BC. The dispersed Jews were invited to remain in solidarity with those of their homeland through prayer for one another and fidelity to the Law and the Commandments. The letter is dated 124 BC, more than fifteen years after the establishment of Israel’s independence.

Ch 1:10-36 Immediately following the first letter is an earlier letter in which Judas Maccabeus addressed the people of Judea. Judas, who led the Maccabean revolt after the death of his father, expressed thanks to God for his goodness, power, and mercy and explained how God manifested his approval of their sacrifices in the Temple through a miraculous fire; many biblical scholars understand this fire to be a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Judas urged uniform observance of this feast.

Sirach 40:1-12 In his reflection on the presence of evil, St. John Paul II taught that moral evil “stems not from any material deficiency, but is a wound inflicted by the disordered exercise of human freedom” (Fides et Ratio, 80).

Ch 40:12-16 Though the reality of evil can seem overwhelming, the goodness of God will ultimately prevail over the forces of evil. (CCC 681)

Ch 40:17-30 This series of contrasts show the superiority of wisdom over all other gifts and blessings. (CCC 2500)

Ch 41:1-4 In the first section of this chapter, death is presented as an inevitable hardship, although for some it is a true blessing. Those who put their hearts on earthly goods will be left empty at the moment of death. On the other hand, those who follow the will of God as the true good build up an everlasting treasure.

Ch 41:5-14 The second section of this chapter warns of the terrible fate of unrepentant sinners.

Ch 41:15-23 The third section of this chapter serves as an examination of conscience, indicating actions that should elicit shame and contrition.

(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

Act 2: An Alternative to Violence


  • When we take a step back and consider the events of the Maccabean Revolt, the legacy left by Mattathias and his sons was an epic of courageous resistance to the terrorizing Seleucid monarchs.

  • So revered were these men that many future generations of Jews bestowed the names of the Maccabees (John, Simon, Judas, etc.) on their own sons.

  • However, the movement was itself characterized by extreme violence, at times even directed against the Maccabees’ own countrymen.

  • Furthermore, it is painfully ironic that a revolt ignited by zeal for the Torah and defiance against Greek culture should result in a dynasty whose rulers eventually used the power they had won to Hellenize the Jewish people.

  • In the end, the Hasmoneans became very much like the very people they fought. Could there have been an alternative to violent resistance?

  • With subtlety, the book of 2 Maccabees seems to suggest just this.

  • Sin rarely leaves good options, and in the case of the Maccabean period, the options were to kill or be killed.

  • Mattathias and his sons took the first path and were commended as heroes in both the Maccabean histories.

  • Nevertheless, 2 Maccabees offers us a snapshot of the second alternative requiring equal—and sometimes greater—courage: the path of martyrdom.

(Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)

  • OH MY GOSH!!

  • We are now in the LAST BOOK OF THE OLD TESTAMENT!!

  • Not counting Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom, of course

  • Also, there are two more days until DAY 300!!!

  • So the context for the beginning of 2 Maccabees is hearing the story of Judas, Jason, Antiochus Epiphanes etc. all over again

  • The introduction is really interesting

  • The story has happened already and the Sacred Author, knowing how the story went down, is giving an intro to the whole story not only by throwing back, but by throwing forward if that makes any sense

  • We know that when Judas Maccabeus and his brothers reclaimed the Temple and rededicated the Temple and lit the oil lamps

  • What happened?

  • The lamps burned for EIGHT DAYS

  • This was the FIRST HANUKKAH

  • So on the 25th day of Kislev, they celebrate the purification of the Temple

  • So we already read that in 1 Maccabees and it is coming up in 2 Maccabees

  • BUT…

  • In these introductory letters that are initiating The Second Book of Maccabees the Sacred Author is saying, “By the way, before we get into this any further, you are invited, welcomed/maybe even commanded, to keep the Feast of Booths in the month of Kislev. On the 25th day of Kislev, we celebrate the purification of the Temple. This is what happened in Jerusalem in the Temple, the Hanukkah thing, the Festival of Lights, and so we are inviting you to participate in this festival as well.”

  • So it’s a TIME-WARP situation like in Deuteronomy

  • In Deuteronomy we have already lived through this story in the wilderness and now we are recounting the story of us in the wilderness

  • Something like that

  • So the people have already lived through the purification of the Temple

  • The people are told right away to keep this feast, this observance of the festival

  • We also have the story of Nehemiah discovering the SACRED FIRE

  • We don’t really have this story anywhere else in the Bible

  • So on their way to Persia, which was actually Babylon, the priest hid the sacred fire

  • It turned into this liquid goo

  • When Nehemiah recovered the fire…

  • Remember, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls after he was sent back to Jerusalem by the King of Persia

  • Double points if you remember that king’s name…(I know his name but to type it out here would be cheating 😉)

  • They recovered the fire but it had turned into this liquid

  • When they put the liquid on the altar and the sun shined down on it, it ignited

  • So here is this really cool sign of GOD’S FAITHFULNESS

  • So it was fire that turned into liquid that turned back into fire

  • We recognize that this was the people of God

  • They were FIRE in Covenant with God, in the land of Israel

  • They were brought into Exile and were dormant in some ways

  • Obviously, God is still working with them

  • BUT…

  • Then they are brought back to the Temple and Mt. Zion

  • And they are IGNITED once again

  • It’s kind of an image that Fr. Mike is teasing out

  • Tomorrow, we will hear about Jeremiah hiding the Ark of the Covenant


  • We haven’t heard this story yet

  • GOSH!!

  • So onward to Sirach

  • Some wives might have been like, “I’m not sure I like this guy. He’s talking about a garrulous wife or a complaining wife and all these kinds of things.”

  • BUT…

  • We have to highlight this

  • Sirach 40:19, “Children and the building of a city establish a man’s name, but a blameless wife is accounted better than both.”

  • So a lot of kids

  • Building a city

  • A great name

  • BUT…

  • A blameless wife is BETTER THAN BOTH

  • Sirach 40:23, “A friend or a companion never meets one amiss, but a wife and her husband is better than both.”

  • The Sacred Author says multiple times, “Here is praise for that great relationship between a husband and wife.”

  • The blessings of marriage can be such an INCREDIBLE THING

  • Sirach goes through all these things that are good

  • Remember yesterday we talked about all the things God made are GOOD

  • They can be USED for EVIL

  • BUT…

  • The Sacred Author goes even further today in Ch 40

  • “Here’s a lot of good things. But there are things that are even better. There is GOOD. And there is GREAT.”

  • Sirach 40:18, “Life is sweet for the self-reliant and the worker, but he who finds treasure is better off than both.”

  • Sirach 40:20, “Wine and music gladden the heart, but the love of wisdom is better than both.”

  • Sirach 40:21, “The flute and harp make pleasant melody, but a pleasant voice is better than both.”

  • There is something SO GOOD about this recognition that in a world of a lot of goods, our task is to CHOOSE THE BEST

  • We can’t let the GOOD get in the way of the BEST

  • We can’t let the GOOD get in the way of what really should be our PRIORITY

  • Sirach Ch 41 talks about DEATH

  • This is worthwhile

  • Fr. Mike isn’t sure if all of us in the Bible in a Year community reflect on death much

  • Sometimes it is unavoidable

  • There is a large community of us journeying through the Bible

  • Maybe today is the day of someone’s funeral, someone you deeply love

  • Maybe today is the day that you are sitting in someone’s hospital room listening to the Bible and this person whom you live, this person who loves you, is slipping away or is in danger of death

  • So let’s be sensitive to that and realize that YOU ARE NOT ALONE





  • BUT…

  • A lot of us can avoid reflecting on death

  • We don’t take the time to realize THIS IS GUARANTEED

  • Sirach 41:1, “O death, how bitter is the reminder of you to one who lives at peace among his possessions, to a man without distractions, who is prosperous in everything, and who still has the virgo to enjoy his food!”

  • How bitter is the reminder of death to one who is at peace, one who has prosperity, one who has health


  • Sirach 41:2, “O death, how welcome is your sentence to one who is in need and is failing in strength, very old and distracted over everything; to one who is contrary, and has lost his patience!”

  • MAN!! (OH MAN!!)

  • Our perspective on life in this moment, maybe it is full of pain and death is welcome

  • OR…

  • Maybe life is full of strength and opportunity and death is a bitter reminder

  • Sirach 41:3-4, “Do not fear the sentence of death; remember your former days and the end of life; this is the decree from the Lord for all flesh, and how can you reject the good pleasure of the Most High? Whether life is for ten or a hundred or a thousand years, there is no inquiry about it in Hades.”

  • There is something about that that is SO IMPORTANT FOR US


  • That whether a person lives for a day, or for a hundred years, or a thousand years, EVERY DAY OF THOSE YEARS IS UNDESERVED


  • Sometimes that breaks our heart when someone dies before we are ready, if we can EVER be ready

  • It feels like we are robbed

  • It feels like we have been jipped

  • It feels like something has been taken from us


  • BUT…


  • Think of a 4 year old and dies

  • They die and see this as someone has been taken from us



  • BUT…

  • The DEEPER TRUTH is that something had been given that DID NOT HAVE TO BE GIVEN


  • Now, this does not make it easier, maybe in some ways it does

  • This does not take away the grief

  • This does not take away the heartbreak

  • Maybe before that day comes, when the person is taken away, we can look at them across the table

  • We can call them

  • We can FaceTime them

  • We can say, “Every day with you has been a gift that I did not deserve.”

  • There are a lot of parents and grandparents listening

  • To be able to look at your kids, however old they are, and say, “Every day with you has been a gift. This did not have to be given to me. So I just don’t want to let it go to waste. I don’t want to get to the point where it is gone, where you are gone, and now I just think of what is TAKEN. I want to be here in front of you and remember what has been GIVEN.”

  • The same thing is true with husbands, look at your brides

  • The same thing is true with brides, look at your husbands

  • The same thing is true with friends, look at your friends


  • To look at the Lord and say, “God, however long you want my life to be and in the end you are not taking life away from me because it was never mine in the first place. You gave it to me. And now, like Jesus, we can say, ‘Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.’ I can give it back.”

  • I don’t know

  • This is something Fr. Mike has been praying about

  • There are so many of us in this community in the midst of grief and loss






Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and thank you. You keep calling us, gosh every day Lord, you keep calling us to wisdom. You keep calling us to see things as clearly as possible and to choose them as firmly as possible. Help us to walk in your Will and walk in the light of your Truth. Help us to number our days aright that we may gain wisdom of heart. We make this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.”