Friday of the Thirty-third Week in 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 see this feast as the Jewish Christmas because it is celebrated around the same time of year and is especially mindful of children. However, its significance to Jews seems as thin as a pencil in comparison to the meaning of Jesus’ birth to Christians.
As we have heard for the last week, the Maccabees clan resisted the reforms of the Seleucid (Syrian) king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The king tried to impose pagan customs on the people to the extent of desecrating the Temple with an altar to Zeus. After eight years of outrage, 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 formerly the Temple and now the 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 forbearers in many cases for ages.