Tag Archives: Jerusalem temple

The Maccabees: Restoring the Temple

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees tell the story of the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem three years after its profanation  by Antiochus Epiphanes.  About the year 167 BC,  Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, the heart of their religion.

The first reading on Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers, certainly aware of this historic event, recall Jesus cleansing the temple.(Friday’s gospel) Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

Cleansing the temple was a symbolic act. By it,  Jesus signified  he is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God.

Luke says Jesus taught in the temple “every day.” As our eternal high priest, he teaches us every day and brings us every day to his Father and our Father.

Jesus is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When he spoke about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he was raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” Yet, we’re a sacramental people and need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go, or are not frequented.

Old stories carry lessons.

The Father’s Hand

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 10:22-30

The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

John 10:22-24

A wintry chill descended upon the temple in Jerusalem as Jesus’ enemies encircled the shepherd like wolves. The Light of the World outshone all the candles of the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah, Feast of Dedication), but his enemies preferred darkness. 

“How long will you take away our life?” they asked the one who is Life itself (see NABRE footnote to John 10:24).

Hearts and ears were closed to Jesus, though his opponents seemed to seek a straight answer about his messiahship. 

Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.

John 10:25-26

Believing is not automatic. Signs and wonders, teaching, and fulfillment of prophecies do not necessarily awaken faith. The human heart has an unfathomable capacity to resist whatever it wants to resist. Every argument has a counter-argument. Faith is not ultimately a matter of debate, but of trust in a divine person. Faith is friendship.

Signs and wonders have limited efficacy. Stories in the Torah abound with signs and wonders that failed to produce lasting change. The ten plagues of Egypt rolled off the hardened heart of Pharaoh. The parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, and “bread from heaven” (manna) did not prevent grumbling or craving for the “fleshpots of Egypt.” 

“You do not believe,” Jesus said, because you have no relationship with me. My sheep seek green pastures, still waters, healing, rest, and life from me (Psalm 23).

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28

No one can snatch the sheep of the divine shepherd. Not even death, the last enemy in this world (1 Corinthians 15:26), can destroy the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 29:30

The buck stops with the Father. Jesus can be mocked, scourged, and crucified for a time, but “the Father and I are one.” The Good Shepherd will return to the Father with the sheep given to him. The Father is better than a surety or guarantee. His Word is not just a promise or an oath, but a person—his only-begotten Son.


Friday, 4th Week of Lent

Lent 1

Jesus went from Galilee up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Tabernacles where “the Jews were trying to kill him” . (John 7, 1-39) It was a popular Autumn feast drawing crowds of visitors to the city. The “inhabitants of the city” notice him. Who are they?

They’re not the leaders who will later put him to death. They’re the ordinary people who watch the leaders, who know what’s happening in the city, who follow the trends and pass the gossip. They watch Jesus with curiosity as he enters the temple area and begins to teach.

“Do our leaders now believe he’s the Messiah?” “How can he be, because he’s from Galilee and no one will know where the Messiah is from?” They go back and forth– they’re the undecided who wait to see who wins before they take sides.

Jesus cried out against them, because they think they know what’s going on but know nothing. They’re blind to the Word in their midst.

When we think about those responsible for the death of Jesus, we shouldn’t leave out “the inhabitants of the city.” Terrible things happen because  the undecided choose to stay on the sidelines and become uninvolved.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom for today talks about people like that–the people who wait and see. “Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him.” (Wisdom 2,12-24)

Prayer helps us to see what is real, the spiritual masters teach. To see what is real we have to put aside the ordinary ways we see and judge and act. The way we think often blinds us to the truth. Then, we have to act. Whether we’re learned theologians, practiced priests, informed church-goers, or “inhabitants of Jerusalem” we need to humble ourselves before God.

We are the inhabitants of the city,

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Presentation in the Temple, February 2nd



Temple of Jerusalem, 1st century, Israel Museum

The Presentation of Jesus in the temple, forty days after his birth, is a Christmas feast, even though our Christmas decorations are put away. It’s part of Luke’s Infancy Narrative.

The temple of Jerusalem– a reproduction is pictured above– plays a big part in Luke’s Infancy Narrative,  even more important than the stable to which the shepherds came.  The angel announced John’s birth to Zachary in the temple, and there Jesus is presented after his birth. Later, he will come to the temple as a young boy and  impresses its teachers, as he listens to them and asks them questions.

Luke doesn’t dwell on the rituals or appearance of the temple– he may not know much about them–but the temple for him is where God is present, and so it’s the place where Jesus would be recognized. Forty days after his birth, two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, recognize him. They’re  faithful believers who  represent the generations waiting for the Messiah.

Old Simeon takes the child in his arms:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”  (Luke  2,22-40)

Afterwards in his gospel Luke describes the rejection of Jesus by his neighbors in the synagogue at Nazareth– neighbors who saw him so frequently but don’t recognize him. Here in the temple two faithful Jews, Simeon and Anna, waiting for years, receive him. The long wai in the temple has not dulled their eyes. In fact, it has made them sharper. They see salvation in this little child, ” a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of  your people Israel.”


So true, isn’t it, waiting can dull our eyes? Year by year can diminish what we expect and hope for. Day after day, faith can get tired. Prayers can become rote, sacraments can become routine. A holy place can become just another place.

It wasn’t so for these two elderly Jews. Their steady presence in the temple made them sharper, quicker to recognize the light that came to that place. We bless candles today, to burn in our church this year, and we pray that our church may never be dark but a place where we see the light of Christ and recognize his will for us and for our world.

“Outwardly Jesus was fulfilling the law, but in reality he was coming to meet his believing people. Prompted by the Holy Spirit Simeon and Anna came to the temple. Enlightened by the same Spirit, they recognized the Lord, so let us also gathered by the Holy Spirit, enter the house of the Lord and encounter Christ and recognize him in the breaking of the bread until he comes again, revealed in glory.”  (Feast of the Presentation)





Jesus in the Temple

Where did Jesus teach and pray and live when he was in Jerusalem? That’s hard to figure out today because the city was thoroughly destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and since then earthquakes, wars, political and religious forces have hammered away at the old city.

Jerusalem destroyed: 70 AD

Archeologists try their best to reconstruct ancient Jerusalem and they’ve produced a wonderful model of the city from about the time of Jesus, which can be seen today at the city’s Israel Museum.  As the model indicates, the Second Temple built by Herod the Great dominated the city then. Jesus must have taught and prayed in this splendid place–still being built during his lifetime– as he came to celebrate the Jewish feasts.

His activity here triggered his condemnation to death.

Can we say more precisely where he taught and when he began teaching there? Luke’s gospel offers the interesting story that his parents, after missing him on one of their usual visits to the Holy City,  “found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2,46) This probably took place in the Court of the Gentiles, the extensive space that surrounded the temple itself, which we can see in the model. We can surmise that, as observant Jews, his family brought him to Jerusalem for the major feasts.

The name, Court of the Gentiles, indicates an area open to all, even though the temple building itself was open only to the Jews. In the Court of the Gentiles,  young Jewish children like Jesus and adults looking for a greater understanding of their faith were able to listen and ask questions of the Jewish teachers. At the same time, even those who did not share the Jewish faith were welcome here,  namely,  non-Jews, gentiles, who could speak to Jewish teachers, inquire about the Jewish faith and even pray to the unknown God.

The Court of the Gentiles was an important part of the temple area; it proclaimed Jewish openness to the world.  The psalms and the prophets spoke of the God of all nations and looked to the day when all peoples would be counted among the children of Abraham:

“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house

will be established as the highest mountain

and raised above the hills.

All nations shall stream toward it;

many peoples will come and say:

‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may instruct us in his ways

and we may walk in his paths.” Isaiah 2,1-5

The Court of the Gentiles was the place where Jesus proclaimed a new age that would fulfill these promises.  As he grew “in wisdom and age and grace” Jesus continued to go to the temple with his family from Galilee to celebrate the Jewish feasts, still “listening to the teachers and asking them questions.”

But after his baptism by John, Jesus’ visits to the temple changed. During the feasts he made extraordinary claims about himself and his mission, as John’s Gospel records.  His claims, along with healings he worked in Jerusalem– his cures of  the man born blind and of the paralyzed man, above all his raising of Lazarus from the dead– alarmed the temple authorities.

The gospels all record the disturbing incident that took place in the temple during the final stages of his ministry. According to Mark’s gospel: “He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold  and those who bought, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he taught and said to them, “Is it not written, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11,15-17, Matthew 21,1017; Luke 19, 45-46; John 2,13-17)

Not only was the Court of the Gentiles a place for teaching and prayer, it was also a place for exchanging money, getting advice from priests about where and how to pray and make your offerings,  buying food and animals for sacrifice. In a prophetic gesture, Jesus upset this traditional apparatus and called for renewing the temple so that it could fulfill its destiny as “a house of prayer for all the nations.”

The Gentiles would no longer be excluded from experiencing the Divine Presence;  Jesus signified he came to break down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and reconcile both to God through his death. He himself would be the new temple and the sacrifice of reconciliation for all peoples.

No wonder that a major accusation made against him later at his trial before the Jewish leaders was based on what witnesses claimed were his threats to destroy the temple. “We heard him say ‘I will destroy this temple made from human hands and I will build another not made by human hands.” (Mark 14,58)

Some picture Jesus as a hapless Galilean peasant caught in a government net to catch and destroy potential revolutionaries, like Barabbas. Jesus went to his death for more reasons than that. His activity in the temple is an important part of his life and mission, and it led to his death.

Telling the Truth in Dangerous Places

The two places recalled in today’s Mass readings are dangerous places for telling the truth. The three young men in Babylon tell the truth in the hearing of a king who wants all to bow down to him. They remain loyal to their God and they are thrown into a fiery furnace, but God keeps them unharmed.

Jesus speaks the truth in the temple in Jerusalem. His message is inflammatory, according to the temple leaders. They would rather he be silent or go somewhere else, preferably back to some little village in Galilee. But he speaks his truth and tells them they are not children of Abraham, but people looking after their own interests. Their dialogue as recorded in John’s gospel still crackles with controversy.

Jesus will be sent to death, but God will raise him up.

From what we know about the Jewish temple at that time it does seem like a place where you had to watch what you said. Though the Romans kept Judea on a loose leash, they didn’t like rebellions. Their representatives in the area were not the best  administrators then–Pontius Pilate really wasn’t good at managing Herod or his Jewish subjects. Historians say he was incompetent.

In the late 60’s some young Jewish leaders attached to the temple would massacre a detachment of Roman soldiers and bring Titus and his legions into Judea to level the temple and Jerusalem itself.

The temple was a volatile place; the temple area today still is. Martin Goodman’s book, Rome and Jerusalem, tells the story of the sad tale of Jerusalem’s destruction and the events that led up to it.

But we still have to speak the truth at dangerous times and places. Yes, even today. Not everyplace or everybody wants to hear it. Don’t mention things like the need for addressing the inequalities that exist in our world in some places.  How can we make sure people everywhere have enough to eat and drink and a place to live? How can we respect human life, from birth to death? How can we deal with the climate change? How can we live together as a human family in our world?

You can’t speak about issues like this in some places, even some of our churches. But if Jesus offers an example, we should.