I don’t need to compare to my own puny, cushy lifestyle in order to elevate the history of Eleazar the scribe. His story is powerful enough, and one that—despite my own Dory-like memory—I have found myself recalling time and time again as I consider what it looks like to be brave.
To be brave for God and others.
People knew who this 90-year-old scribe and teacher was. And when a new Syrian ruler came around and demanded that everyone symbolically curse their Jewish faith by eating pig meat, Eleazar bravely walked up to the rack and spit the meat on the ground in front of everyone. Shaking their heads, those men who were commanded to uphold this new law kindly took the old man aside and, because they knew and cared for him, told him that they would give him fake meat and he could simply pretend.
What a temptation. I can just imagine the rationalizations going through my mind: I am important to the people. I won’t really be breaking the law. I must continue my vital work of serving this lost and needy group. Who knows how long this new king will last anyways? With the way things go, he’ll be killed in the next year and we’ll have a whole new set of laws. And if not, perhaps I’ll start a revolt. But they need me alive to do it.
Eleazar says, “Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishments of mortals, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” (See 2 Maccabees 6:18-31)
And he did die. And it was a painful, terrible flogging.
But the aftermath? Well, his sacrifice did in fact leave a noble example to others who suffered, and not too long after, a revolt was led against Antiochus Epiphanes where thousands were released from the hold of this cruel king.
What a powerful sacrifice for the honor of God and love of others… akin, it seems, to one innocent man who let himself be tortured and nailed to a wooden beam for us.