24 November. Friday, Week 33
Then Judas and his brothers said, "See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it." So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion.
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers."
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
Today's texts recall the reconsecration of God's temple. In Maccabees this happens in Jerusalem, after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes; and in the gospel, Jesus cleanses the sanctuary after its profanation by traders in the temple courts. We might ponter on ways in which our lives and our church can become more truly a house of prayer, a temple according to God's holy purpose.
Jesus has wept over Jerusalem for failing to recognize its time of grace. Today he enters the temple and drives out the merchants and traders. His objection is not to the ritual sacrifices but to the abuse of religion for financial gain by merchants and religious leaders who were more concerned for money than the worship of God.
To purify the temple means to let God be supreme in our lives. That means that our business and financial dealings as well as our politics must be moderated by God's law of justice and compassion. We should bring every aspect of our daily lives, family and neighbourhood, work and recreation, into the temple, so that these can be purified, sanctified and placed under God's protection. At first, this program seems sweet and easy. But Jesus' requirements may be as stern as in today's story. As we renew our attachment to him, God can say of us, "My house is a house of prayer." Every part of life, home and family, work and play, can contribute to the depth and sincerity of our prayer, with God enthroned everywhere in our being.
Jesus showed his sharp displeasure at what is happening in the Temple in Jerusalem. Instead of serving its original purpose as a house of prayer for everyone, it had come to serve the interests of a few. Every human institution needs constant reform and renewal, and that includes religious institutions, like the church. The Lord is always prompting us to reform and renew our institutions so that they serve God's purposes more fully, rather than our own purposes.
No human institution, no matter how revered, is perfect; it will always be in need of renewal, because it will always be shaped by people who are tainted by sin. We need to take this to heart in an ongoing way and be open to the Lord's call to repentance and renewal. This was not the case with those responsible for the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. After Jesus' actions in the temple, the gospel says that the chief priests and the scribes tried to do away with Jesus. To resist this renewal is to resist the Lord. Our journey towards God, both as individuals and as communities, will always involve repentance, a willing to keep on turning more fully towards what God wants for our lives.