In the first reading, a mother witnesses the martyrdom of her youngest son at the hands of the king. In this highly emotional account, the king attempts to coerce the son to renounce his faith, in exchange for great fortune and fame. As he is being whipped and tortured, it would be understandable if he caved in order to end the pain. His mother also suffers as the king tells her to convince her son to give up the fight and give in to his commands. She is surely tempted to preserve his earthly life and end the suffering. But neither one succumbs to temptation. They both recognize God’s greatness and trust in Him to reward them with eternal life.
This reading is a foreshadowing of another mother and her son, as they suffer at the hands of evil. Shortly after Jesus' birth, Simeon, a prophet tells Mary, “This child is destined...to be a sign that will be opposed...and a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Lk 2:34-35) This suffering comes to its fulfillment when her son is arrested, tortured, and forced to carry his own cross, amidst jeering and spitting. One can only imagine Mary’s suffering as she watches him, helpless. And as he is hung to die, she alone remains standing at the foot of the cross, imbued with God’s courage and hope.
Jesus, too, begins his journey with a knowledge that pain was to come. In the Garden of Gethsemane he begs God to take this cup of suffering away from him. But he remains steadfast in his commitment to do the Father’s will. Amidst all the torture and humiliation, he sets his face as flint, knowing that he shall not be put to shame (Is 50:7).
And we know that the story ends in joy! Their mission to provide salvation to the world is fulfilled. Jesus resurrects and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. And our Blessed Mother is assumed into Heaven and crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth.
You may be thinking - "well that's great but I am not the Son of God, nor am I His mother...I couldn't do that". But then we must remember the mother and son in the first reading, who remain unnamed so that we can picture ourselves in their place.
Both sets of mothers and sons are signs of God’s commitment to His people. It is tempting to avoid doing the right thing, for fear that it might cause us pain - emotional, physical, social, or otherwise. Will I be judged for speaking up for my faith? What if we get pregnant before we want to be? Will I be killed if I go to mass? Are my sins too great to be forgiven? But God shows us time and time again that He will be there with us. We will not be alone. He will give us the courage we need to be strong. And the reward is far greater than the suffering we experienced.
Dear Jesus, give us strength to persevere in holiness, despite the suffering it may entail, and trust in your eternal promise. Blessed Mother, comfort us in our times of trial and remind us of the joy you now experience in Heaven.