The book of Maccabees in the Bible tells of the revolt of the Jewish people – a fascinating book to read - against the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes in 2nd century BC.
He was the son of one of Alexander the Great’s generals Antiochus who ruled the Eastern part of his empire after Alexander’s death. They revolted against the imposition of the pagan ideas and beliefs of this King on the Jewish people.
Christians are often called by contemporary society to conform to its norms and rules.
The story of the book of Maccabees shows this is nothing new. Some of the Jewish people take on the behaviour and ideas of the Greeks, the then predominant culture in the Middle East.
They do it to fit in. Those that did oppose it faced execution by the King’s agents. We as Christians in the secular western world are faced with similar challenges though not with execution or death, though the latter is certainly a reality for the persecuted Church in other parts of the world and was certainly a reality for many Christians in Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union.
Even though we do not face such persecution in the UK and are free to practise our faith, the pull and requirement of society to fit in with and accept its norms and rules is still there as a real challenge.
Further we often we find that Christianity is not clearly understood or even accepted by parts of society as being relevant, especially institutional religion.
The response in the time of the Maccabees is eventually to rise up in revolt.
The Christian Gospel takes us down a different route. Jesus always calls us to ‘read the signs of the time’, a call that is echoed by the official Church when it says: “At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”
So our role, the task of the church in this area, the responsibility of the Christians here is not to complain about how things are, but rather proclaim about how the Gospel says things should be.
Unlike the Maccabees our response should not be one of violent reaction against what is, but of offering a positive Christ-filled alternative. We are to present the face of Christ to the world.
Indeed in the face of the current economic crisis, and the affect it will have on so many people’s lives, this is one of those challenges that require us to ‘read the signs of the time in the light of the Gospel’ and present the face of Christ to the world.
By Deacon Mark Woods, St Michael’s, High Salvington