“O God of Hosts, how dear to me is your dwelling. My soul has desire and longing to be present in the courtyards of your Temple.”
A Word of Hope
Doesn’t that verse from today’s reading make each of us want to yell out “Amen”! We long to return to our familiar pattern of in-person unmasked worship at the Cathedral of Hope. But we must wait. Then, I remember the plight of the Jewish people who survived when Roman forces destroyed Jerusalem and completely tore down their Temple structure (70 CE). With the total destruction of the building and death of hundreds of its priests and attendants, how could they practice their worship of God? Certainly, that was a “sour lemon” situation. However, some of the faithful leaders scattered from the ruined city and moved their lives and spiritual influence to other towns in Palestine, Egypt and elsewhere.
In these new locations, they developed centers for Jewish education and new synagogues. From these faithful Jews, the new Jewish rabbinic tradition developed. There was no central Temple for animal sacrifice. Instead, new synagogues sprang up where they taught Jewish history and the Law. A philosophy of life was created which was based on a personal commitment to a moral life and social goodness as God had always wanted. Out of the ashes of the destroyed Temple structure, this new rabbinic tradition flourished and has nourished Jewish people spreading their faith throughout the world. With our cooperation, God can make great lemonade out of a great disaster!
The Temple building of Jesus’ time was not the first Jewish Temple. Centuries earlier, a first Temple had been built and became the heart-center of Jewish religious life. However, it was destroyed by the invading army of Nebuchadnezzar and much of Judah’s population exiled to distant Babylon (586 B.C.E.). They were forced to live in an enclave in that land of strange language, religion and customs. Those Je ws were utterly bereaved by the loss of their national identity and religious practices. They called themselves “gola” (exiles) and sought to forge a new Jewish identity in this foreign land.
They struggled to understand this terrible event because God had promised protection to their forefathers. With divine help, they creatively remade their spiritual practice without the formality of a temple structure. Their worldview changed and they tended to look toward a day of God’s salvation as the underpinning of their spiritual lives. They developed a social lifestyle which reflected the Laws of the Torah. In Babylon, they became known as “people of the book”. Then God acted to bring salvation to them. Cyrus, the King of Persia who had defeated Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, was inspired by God to build a new Temple in Jerusalem. In order to construct and manage it, he ordered that the captive Jewish population return to Jerusalem and rebuild a great temple to worship Yahweh. This gave them a new opportunity.Their religious life, practices and social influence were renewed, actually re-created… sweet lemonade indeed!
Regardless of what life gives, may we always remain people of the book. Help us to remember that, with our cooperation, God can make great lemonade out of any challenge or even worldwide disasters.
Donald (Luke) Day
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare