In today’s first reading from the book of Maccabees, Eleazar refuses to eat the meat (pork) of the sacrifice prescribed by the king. Those in charge of the ritual meat, who have taken something of a liking to Eleazar, try to encourage him to pretend to eat the meat of the sacrifice. Bring your own meat, they say, and you can eat that, pretending it is the pork, and thus escape death.
Eleazar refused to do as they asked, making up his mind, “in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood,” to be loyal to God. The primary reason he gives is his concern for the example he would set for young people. “Many young people would think the ninety-year old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me…Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.”
The reading is a good reminder, especially for those of us who are graying. Our actions impact more than ourselves. What we do is an example to others, especially the young people in our lives. What we model matters. We don’t a choice about whether or not we will be models; that is part of our responsibility of communal living and, in any event, people will look to us whether we want them to or not.
It is a good check on ourselves to ask as I do things, is this the example I want to set? Will my actions model movement toward God or will they lead people astray?