Friday of the XXXIII Week of Ordinary Time
I Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59, Lucas 19:45-48
The first reading today describes the origins of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. Many people, especially in the United States, see this feast as a Jewish Christmas because it is celebrated around the same time of year. However, its significance to Jews seems as slight as a pencil in comparison to the meaning of Jesus’ birth to us.
As we might have heard yesterday if it were not Thanksgiving, the Maccabee family started a rebellion against the Seleucid (Syrian) kings. For years the foreigners had occupied Israel with relative peace until Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to the throne in 175 B.C. The new king tried to impose pagan customs on the people desecrating the Temple with an altar to Zeus. By 167 B.C. Mattathias Maccabeus and his sons had enough. They rallied faithful Jews behind them to oust the occupiers. In the passage today Mattathias’ son Judas leads the rededication of the Temple and declares an annual celebration which Jews observe today as Hanukkah.
In the gospel we find Jesus performing a vaguely similar cleansing of the Temple. The situation, of course, is very different but it is the same zeal for the holy that impels Jesus to drive out the vendors. Both readings remind us of the centrality of a consecrated place to worship. We might praise God anywhere and should pray wherever we find ourselves. But the Temple and synagogue for Jews and the church for Christians have a unique importance. They are the designated places of encounter with God hallowed by the prayers of our forbearers in many cases for ages. They testify to the truth that Judaism and Christianity are not fads but vibrant avenues of communication with the living God.