Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, "O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
My soul is longing and yearning,
is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
to God, the living God. (R./)
The sparrow herself finds a home
and the swallow a nest for her brood;
she lays her young by your altars,
Lord of hosts, my king and my God. (R./)
They are happy, who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.
Turn your eyes, O God, our shield,
look on the face of your anointed. (R./)
One day within your courts
is better than a thousand elsewhere.
The threshold of the house of God
I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked. (R./)
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
'This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition." Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, 'honour your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban' (that is, an offering to God) -- then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this."
What a travesty if one sets aside clearly expressed of God in favour of merely human traditions. Many traditional rituals of Jesus' time had lost touch with the central moral virtues taught by Moses and the prophets.
Our Christian church needs to purify its own traditions so that they reflect the values of Jesus. Every generation needs to renew its vision, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that our practices correspond with the true spirit of the gospel. Almost sixty years ago the second Vatican Council valiantly attempted to do just that; and various synods offer bishops and opportunity to discuss creative ways of renewing church practice. In our personal lives too we sometimes cling to traditional ways of doing things that are not really in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Norms of behaviour are always in need of reform in the light of the gospel. We need to listen afresh to the Lord's Word, and trust in the Spirit to show us the way.
The core biblical truth is that whatever God has made is very good. This is a good lens through which to examine today's texts,about Solomon and Jesus. In his new-built temple Solomon ponders, "Can it be that God dwells among us on earth? If the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built?" Ten centuries later, Jesus excoriated the pettifogging legalists for setting aside God's commandment [i.e. that the world made by God, is very good] and insisting on the observance of minutiae.
Solomon realises that God's dwell is the total universe, and therefore that no mere human construction, however splendid, can really contain God. (For Catholics, by the way, those words of Solomon should totally demolish any sentimental notion of "the Prisoner in the Tabernacle.") In turn, Jesus declares that all the products of the world, its fruits and vegetables, are clean because they have been created and blessed by God.
Still, Solomon's temple served as a focal point for worship; and Jesus did sanction fasting and abstinence from food, if freely chosen for a good purpose. The Bible holds together these diverse views about eating and about fasting. Our Scriptures combine a vision of the world as God's temple and the value of a particular temple. This diversity serves not to cancel or neutralize but to balance, nuance and enrich.
We build churches for sharing worship for the same reason that we build homes for families. A home is needed , at least for the majority of humankind, to shelter from the elements, to sleep, and as the place where the family can live together. In church, we have a place for prayer and for being a community of faith. Its a place where we encounter the Scriptures, the sacraments and the memory of saints.
To wash ourselves and our food before eating is good hygiene, of course, where water if freely available. But if it leads to arguments and a holier-than-thou atmosphere, it violates our destiny to form one large human family under God. The Bible cuts through the barriers we raise. When we are thoroughly at home in sharing this world with our fellow men and women, then we are ready for heaven, "the highest heavens," home for all God's children. Therefore, Jesus calls out any rituals that unnecessarily divide people. Any who favour divisiveness are in need of conversion: "This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me."