Tag Archives: Temple

Holding on to the Past: The Letter to the Hebrews


We’re reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews these days at Mass. Raymond Brown calls the work “a conundrum”  in his “Introduction to the New Testament”. Who wrote it, where and when it was written, to whom, why?  Hard to figure out.

Indications are the letter was written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD to Jewish-Christians, perhaps in Rome, who wanted to reconstruct the temple and renew worship there.  Martin Goodman’s “Rome and Jerusalem” (New York 2008)  offers an interesting picture of the longing Jews and Jewish Christians had afterwards to rebuild the temple and  revive its rites.

Our letter sees Christ as fulfilling the Jewish past and creating something new. Without dismissing the past, he completes it.

Do we face something like this today as our world and our church face change, drastic change?  We hang on to the past, not knowing the future and afraid of what it will bring, yet we can’t recreate what has been, something new lies before us.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us to face the future bravely, and keep before us the One who holds the key to what is to come. In his lifetime, Jesus struggled with the past, present and future.Remember his struggle. It’s ours.

“Keep your eye fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, For the sake of the joy put before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has taken his place at the right hand of the Father. Consider how he faced such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

December 19: Zechariah in the Temple

The priest Zachariah goes into the temple bearing incense to worship the Lord , “In the days of King Herod”. An angel appears next to the altar of incense and says to him. “Your prayer has been heard,..Your wife will bear you a son.”

Surely, the old priest was no longer praying for a son. Childbearing was over for his wife and himself. The promise of new life was long gone; there’s no hope for a child.

But the angel promises a child “great in the eyes of the Lord” to be called John, who will more than fulfill their hopes, turning “many of the children of Israel to their God.”

The old priest doubts and is punished with silence. He won’t speak until after the child is born. Then he speaks again,  as he announces to those at his birth that “his name is John.”

You lose your voice when you lose hope in God’s promises. You get it back when you believe. When John is born, Zechariah sings a song of praise at God’s unexpected  gift.

The Communion Prayer for today’s Mass says: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come.”

Never doubt the gifts God wants to give, Zechariah tells us. Doubt silences us. God’s gifts give us a voice.

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

Readings here.

Saturday, 4th Week of Lent

Lent 1

The lenten readings from John’s gospel for today and the next week of lent (chapters 7-10) describe Jesus‘ activity in Jerusalem during the eight- day Feast of Tabernacles, the popular autumn feast that brought many visitors to Jerusalem to celebrate the grape harvest and pray for rain. Water was brought into the temple courtyard from the Pool of Siloam and lighted torches were ablaze during the celebration.

Arriving late for the feast, Jesus taught in the temple area and revealed who he was, using the images of water and light. His cure of the blind man, in the 9th chapter of the gospel, is a sign of the light he bestows on a blind world.

Yet, some don’t see. Those hearing him are divided; some want him arrested, some believe, some question his Galilean origins and his upbringing as a carpenter’s son. How can he be the Messiah, a teacher in Israel?

From Nazareth to Jerusalem Jesus met unbelief. Why didn’t all see and believe? People doubted him then; they  doubt him now. Even his disciples are slow to believe. “How slow you are to believe…”Jesus says to the two on the way to Emmaus.

But the Word continues to teach in our world and instruct disciples weak in faith. His mission is not ended. Saints like Paul of the Cross knew that. However fierce the opposition, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, brings light and life.

“All the works of God are now attacked by the devil, now by human beings. I now have both at once. Don’t be dismayed when contrary factions and rejections arise, no matter how great they are. Be encouraged by the example of St. Teresa who said that the more she was involved in enterprises for the glory of God, the more difficulties she experienced.” (Letter 1180)

The Lord is my light and my salvation,
Whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life,
Of whom should I be afraid?

How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place, O Lord: 1 Kings 8


How is God present to us? The pilgrims looking over at the place where the ancient temple stood in Jerusalem may be asking that question. Our reading today from 1 Kings describes the temple Solomon built.

When David built a splendid palace for himself in Jerusalem after conquering the city he decides that God also needs a beautiful temple, but God tells David through the Prophet Nathan that he doesn’t need a place to dwell in. ( 2 Samuel 7, 4-17) He dwells in a tent so he can move with his people wherever they are. A beautiful reminder– God is with us wherever we are.

But then David’s son, Solomon, builds a great temple for God on the threshing floor he buys in the upper city in Jerusalem, and God makes his dwelling place there. A dark cloud fills the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s temple, the Book of Kings says; it’s so awesome the priests can’t remain in the place. “… The priests could no longer minister because of the cloud, since the LORD’s glory had filled the temple of the LORD.” (1 Kings 8,22-30)

God is transcendent yet immanent. “Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built!” Recognizing God mysterious presence, Solomon asks God to bless him and his people there: “Listen to the petitions of your servant and of your people Israel which they offer in this place. Listen from your heavenly dwelling and grant pardon.”

A good reading to reflect on the presence of God in our lives. God has promised to be with us, yet God’s presence will always be mysterious, beyond our understanding. He goes with us wherever we go, but then there are also holy places where God meets us– sacraments, signs, places he’s promised to be.

Jesus, the new temple of God, fulfills these Old Testament realities. As God’s Word, he dwells among us, accompanying us on our journey of life in signs and sacraments. Yet his presence is also “a dark cloud,” the mystery of his death and resurrection. Awesome, mysterious, beyond our understanding. Yet we draw close and pray and ask that he listen and bring us life.

Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah, an eight day Jewish celebration, which can occur in late November to late December, and Christmas, the Christian celebration on December 25th, are celebrated close together in time. Are they connected beyond that?

The quick answer usually given is no, but think about it a little. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC. After conquering Judea, the Syrian leader plundered the temple, ended Jewish services and erected an altar to Zeus in it.

Leading a Jewish revolt, Judas Maccabeus reconquered the city, cleansed the temple and initiated an eight day celebration in memory of the event. Eight lights lit successively call people to God’s holy place.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was in the temple as Creator and Savior. For Christians God reveals his presence in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself God’s Son, “the light of the world” as he celebrated the Jewish feasts in the temple. (John 7-10)

All the gospels report that Jesus cleansed the temple  and spoke of himself replacing it. Luke’s gospel  begins in the temple with the promise to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist and ends as the Child Jesus enters his “Father’s house.” (Luke 1-2) Our readings today link the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and the Jesus cleansing the temple: 1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48

Far from being separate, Hanukkah and Christmas are connected in their celebration of God’s presence. Hanukkah reminds us of the temple, the place of God’s provisional presence. The Christmas mystery reminds us of the abiding presence of God with us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light that never fails, who gives life to all nations.

Praying with Mary and Ann

IMG (554)
Western Wall, Jerusalem

A novena preparing for the  Feast of Saints Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, July 26 has begun, reminding us of the role parents and grandparents play in raising children.  A few years ago I visited the ancient ruins of the temple in Jerusalem from the time of Jesus where  Jewish women were fervently praying with their daughters before the temple’s western wall.

Ann and her daughter Mary must have prayed here too.


The picture above is a model of the temple from Jesus’ time at the Israel Museum. Tradition says Ann and Joachim were closely associated with the temple and may have lived nearby.  An ancient church honoring St. Ann stands today near the Pool of Bethesda, near the temple. There, a paralyzed man was healed by Jesus. (John 5, 1-18) That’s the church below.

st.ann basilica
Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

A statue of Ann and her daughter Mary is in the Jerusalem church. Ann is teaching her daughter at her side.


What is she teaching her? Some statues show her teaching Mary the scriptures. I’ve seen a statue, like the one below, showing Ann teaching her the ABCs and numbers. That’s what parents and grandparents do, isn’t it? they teach children life’s basics: how to live and how to pray.

Cathedral, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Still true today. Parents and grandparents, the next generation is at your side. Ann and Joachim pray for us; show us the way.

Jesus and the Elderly

Jesus drew all people to himself, men and women, rich and poor, old and young. The gospels show that even at his birth he gave life to all.

In our readings these days at Mass, St. Luke tells of two old people, Simeon and Anna, who recognize the Child Jesus when he’s brought by Mary and Joseph into the temple after his birth. They give thanks to God and speak about him to those “waiting for the redemption of Israel.” (Luke 2, 36-38

The artist  describes their meeting in the portrait above. The two elderly people are transformed with wonder as they meet Jesus and Mary and Joseph.

We are living in an aging society; our elderly population is increasing. The temptation is to see old age as a stage in life when all is over, but this gospel story gives us pause. The Lord comes at every moment of life. He draws us to himself our whole life long.Not only did Simeon and Anna wonder at the child they saw and held in their arms, but they spoke about him to those “waiting for the redemption of Israel.”

The old have an important role in the Christmas story.

Readings here. .

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple


The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord is the last of the feasts of Christmas, even though most Christmas decorations have disappeared awhile ago.

The Feast is based mainly on Luke’s Infancy narrative which begins in the temple with the announcement to the priest Zacharias of the birth of John the Baptist and ends with the presentation of Jesus in the temple by Mary and Joseph. The two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna represent the faithful generations that have been waiting for the Messiah.

Previously, Luke tells of the poor shepherds, the outcasts waiting in the dark, who are greeted by the angels. In Matthew, the gentiles are invited in the coming of the magi. Now the long wait of the Jewish people is rewarded as old Simeon takes the child in his arms and utters a prophecy that he will bring light to his people.

We bless candles today to symbolize our acceptance of the light of Christ.

God was present in the Temple of Jerusalem, the Jews believed. They prayed there and offered sacrifices to the Lord. Luke would have us see that God’s Son is one with his Father as he is presented in the temple. He becomes the new temple, God present in our midst in a unique way.  He is our new High Priest who unites us to the Father by the sacrifice of himself.

Jesus later claims that role as he teaches in the temple and prays there.

From simple places, Bethlehem and Nazareth, Jesus was taken by his parents to the splendid temple of Jerusalem. From an everyday world where he’s hardly noticed, he’s carried to the glorious place where heaven and earth meet. From a town hidden on a mountain and a cave cut into a hill, he’s brought and placed as Light for the world.

The presentation of Jesus in the  temple is a highly symbolic feast. Here are the readings for Mass.  Here’s how St. Sophronius, an early bishop of Jerusalem, describes it:

“The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we come in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves…   By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem.

Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel.

Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor.”

The Road Through the Wilderness

Sometimes the best view you get of the world is from above. Here’s a picture taken from a plane in the 1930s or so of the road up to Jerusalem from Jericho and the Jordan Valley. I add another from the ground of the road outside Jericho from more recent times.

Jericho Rd  3

Jericho road modern


Both pictures tell us the road to Jerusalem is a climbing, winding road. It wasn’t easy to take when prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist knew it. Of course today it’s easily managed by car or bus. But in those days, walking or on a donkey, you didn’t always know what to expect when you went through deserts and mountains and some fertile areas where crops were grown.

Isaiah and John the Baptist knew this road very well and they used it to explain our way to God. First, it’s an image that says life will never be easy.  On that road you’re going to get hungry, tired, even wonder whether you will make it or not. Unexpected things can happen: you may get robbed like the man did in the parable of the Good Samaritan. That happened on the road up from Jericho to Jerusalem, remember. You might be blind, like the two blind men from Jericho who couldn’t find their way.

But if you want to get to Jerusalem and enter the house of God, you have to take that road. Jesus took it when he went up to the Holy City. He began in the wilderness.

The message of Isaiah and John the Baptist, so beautifully expressed in our first reading for today (Isaiah 35,1-10), is that God will bring us there.

People Who Go Back And Forth

Our gospel today (John 7, 1-2,10,25-30) recalls Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, a popular autumn feast drawing crowds of visitors to the city. News of his teaching and the wonders he worked in Galilee had already reached the center of Judaism. John describes the reaction of the Jewish leaders: “the Jews were trying to kill him.” Along with them, his coming also draws the attention of “the inhabitants of the city.”

Who are they?

“The inhabitants of the city” are not the leaders who later put him to death. They’re the ordinary public who watch the leaders, who know what’s happening in the city, who follow trends and pass gossip. They watch Jesus with curiosity as he enters the temple area and teaches.

“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’re people who go back and forth, the undecided who wait to see who wins before taking sides. Like Pilate, they would rather wash their hands of blame, but they’re involved just the same.

Jesus does not absolve them from responsibility. In John’s gospel, though immediate blame for rejecting him and putting him to death falls on the Jewish leaders, the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” are also responsible for their blindness to the Word in their midst.

In the larger perspective, then, aren’t we all “inhabitants of Jerusalem” who bear responsibility for not recognizing Jesus and putting him to death? Our Christian tradition sees the sins of us all responsible for the Passion of Jesus.