Kind of fun that today’s readings start off with I Maccabees and its retelling of the military escapades of Alexander the Great and his successors, the Diadochi. Happy Veterans’ Day, and take a moment to thank those who’ve served in our nation’s military to protect your rights, and to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in that service. In our own parish, a shout-out to Bill and Kevin and Gabe and Doug and Chase and all the others who’ve served in recent years in often overlooked, thankless conflicts.
But note, the military language of I Maccabees isn’t all flattering. Service and sacrifice are noble, but if they’re for ignoble ends, like the ego of a mad king in Antioch, then the nobility of it all is blunted a bit. These Diadochi, they quickly start to play games with other peoples’ lives for their own personal aggrandizement, to satisfy their own ego. “In order to reign over both kingdoms.” Knowing a bit about Hellenistic history, I can say with some confidence that the Seleucids (the family of Antiochus Epiphanes) never managed to effectively reign over even their own one kingdom: they were constantly losing border provinces to rebels, from Pergamum in the west (which was lost to an ambitious eunuch who stole the royal treasury) to Bactria in the east. Even in their own heartland, they could barely control the countryside, with semi-independent warlords more-or-less ignoring royal authority all over the place. Who needs a second kingdom when you can’t even rule the one you have?
So all the blood spilt on the battlefield by those brave warriors (and they were brave, no doubt) went for naught. And there, friends, lies a good reminder this Veterans’ Day. All service is honorable, but not all of it is useful. It matters that we citizens ensure that our women and men in uniform are called upon to serve in harm’s way only for things that truly matter, only in endeavors of true importance. We owe them that–to make sure that conflict, when unavoidable, is about substance and not about ego. When we send someone off to risk their life and limb, we should not only be thankful for their service: we should also be extra-vigilant and extra-certain that there are intended, achievable and important outcomes that their risk will help achieve. Otherwise, well, it’s so many elephants on the road to the Nile.