Thank you for journeying with us all this while. The liturgical year is coming to an end, and the OXYGEN team would like to invite interested writers to contribute a reflection or two for the Christmas mass readings at the end of this year. If you feel called to put the sharing of your faith into writing, please do drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
The OXYGEN team
2 Maccabees 6:18-31
Eleazar, one of the foremost teachers of the Law, a man already advanced in years and of most noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth wide to swallow pig’s flesh. But he, resolving to die with honour rather than to live disgraced, went to the block of his own accord, spitting the stuff out, the plain duty of anyone with the courage to reject what it is not lawful to taste, even from a natural tenderness for his own life. Those in charge of the impious banquet, because of their long-standing friendship with him, took him aside and privately urged him to have meat brought of a kind he could properly use, prepared by himself, and only pretend to eat the portions of sacrificial meat as prescribed by the king; this action would enable him to escape death, by availing himself of an act of kindness prompted by their long friendship. But having taken a noble decision worthy of his years and the dignity of his great age and the well earned distinction of his grey hairs, worthy too of his impeccable conduct from boyhood, and above all of the holy legislation established by God himself, he publicly stated his convictions, telling them to send him at once to Hades. ‘Such pretence’ he said ‘does not square with our time of life; many young people would suppose that Eleazar at the age of ninety had conformed to the foreigners’ way of life, and because I had played this part for the sake of a paltry brief spell of life might themselves be led astray on my account; I should only bring defilement and disgrace on my old age. Even though for the moment I avoid execution by man, I can never, living or dead, elude the grasp of the Almighty. Therefore if I am man enough to quit this life here and now I shall prove myself worthy of my old age, and I shall have left the young a noble example of how to make a good death, eagerly and generously, for the venerable and holy laws.’
With these words he went straight to the block. His escorts, so recently well disposed towards him, turned against him after this declaration, which they regarded as sheer madness. Just before he died under the blows, he groaned aloud and said, ‘The Lord whose knowledge is holy sees clearly that, though I might have escaped death, whatever agonies of body I now endure under this bludgeoning, in my soul I am glad to suffer, because of the awe which he inspires in me.’
This was how he died, leaving his death as an example of nobility and a record of virtue not only for the young but for the great majority of the nation.
Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way
I was thirteen years old when I tried my first cigarette. It was summer break right after I had finished my final year of junior high and was with a few friends who were to join me in our new high school. One boy, whose house we were hanging out at, took out a pack of cigarettes and started smoking. A few others followed suit. I remember one of the boys saying – “everyone does it in high school”. Not wanting to be left out and feeling the peer pressure build, I asked for one, lit it up and took a puff. I still remember the burning sensation as the smoke filled my lungs, causing me to cough and hack uncontrollably.
Scientific evidence consistently points to the intentional marketing of tobacco products to youth as being a cause for young people’s tobacco use. In the latest U.S. Surgeon General’s report on “Youth and Tobacco Use” – it concluded that 88% of adult smokers who smoke daily admitted to having started by the age of 18 years old. In addition – 18.1% of all U.S. high school students reported that they smoked one or more cigarettes in the previous month. Tobacco companies spend about $10.5 billion a year (equivalent to almost $1.2 million per hour) to market their products in the U.S. About 90% of that budget is spent in convenience stores, as two-thirds of all teenagers visit a convenience store at least once a week.
I tried smoking a few more times at during high school… but it just never became a habit. Yet (statistically speaking), I should have ended up as a life-long smoker given the influence of my social circle at the time and other personal and environmental factors. But physically, I would get headaches and could not deal well with the dry mouth and foul odors. It was also a financially costly pastime (which I couldn’t afford). There were still a large group of friends who continued to smoke and with whom I continued to be good friends with, but I just somehow stood apart from the crowd (admittedly not from my own courage or strength). I am grateful for this, as I’ve seen what continued tobacco use has done to people that I truly care about.
In our readings from today, both Eleazar and Zacchaeus stood apart from the crowds. Eleazar was willing to accept torture and death over dishonoring God. Zacchaeus climbed a fig tree in hopes of catching a glimpse of Jesus. Here was a man who had a deep void in his soul that only Jesus could heal. Being a wealthy man and one with great influence (although despised by the people), Zacchaeus could have pushed his way to the front or paid someone to do that for him. Alternatively, he could have just concluded it wasn’t worth his time to see Jesus. Instead, he took that initial step of faith with an act of humility. Climbing a tree – typically something that children are more likely to do. Jesus granted him mercy and forgiveness. And with heartfelt joy, Zacchaeus responded (although he had already been forgiven) by disgorging his ill-gotten gains and donating it to the poor. Paul teaches us – Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2).
When we look at our own reflections in the mirror – how much do we see Christ in our lives as opposed to the compulsions of the secular world? What must we do to set ourselves apart?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)
Thanksgiving – We give thanks for Jesus Christ as a living example of resisting evil and tyranny through His life, death and resurrection.
Prayer – Lord, we pray for those who are fighting addiction. We pray for the healing power of the Holy Spirit and the courage to stand against the oppressive desires in our lives.