September 25, 2023
by Tom Quinn
Creighton University - retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 449

Ezra 1:1-6
Psalm 126:1b-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Luke 8:16-18

Praying Ordinary Time

Judging Others? Or Ourselves?

As a Young man, (over 50 years ago) I was fortunate to travel to Israel. I stayed with “friends of a friend” in a dormitory at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Israel had fought the “six-day war” a few years before, and security in the city remained at an elevated level. Despite this, one of my hosts invited me to visit the remnants of the western wall (the “wailing wall”) that had been further unearthed since the end of the war. I confess that my primary goal on this trip was to visit Christian sites. My knowledge of the Temple was from an historic, archaeological, viewpoint. I was not invested at that time in a spiritual or emotional sense. This soon changed. As we stood on the plaza awaiting our turn to approach the wall, my Jewish friend bound his leather phylacteries containing scriptural passages, to his forehead and arm. He prepared small slips of paper with prayers to wedge into spaces in the wall. We were approaching one of the most important sites in our shared Judeo-Christian faith. I suddenly became more aware of my ignorance of Jewish customs and even our shared reverence for the temple. I had not even prepared a prayer to share with our God. I watched as my friend bowed and pressed his forehead to the wall. Many around us were, indeed, so overcome that they wept. Later, as we walked away, I asked my friend why he had not warned me to prepare for this visit. “I assumed that you were Jewish.” “Thank you,” I said, at a loss for any other words.

I still feel the loss of the opportunity to fully experience that holy and historic site. As I reflect on today’s first reading (Ezra 1:1-6), I can better resonate with the depth of joy that the Jewish people experienced at the building of the first and second temples and the utter devastation that they felt when the Temples were destroyed. The reading today deals with a miraculous and happy time in the history of the Jewish people and the Temple. The Jewish people had been captive in Babylon for many decades. King Cyrus of Persia overcame the Babylonians. He not only set the Jewish nation free at the direction of the Lord, the God of heaven, "but encouraged them to return home to rebuild their Temple in honor of “the God of Heaven.” He even contributed to the funds for rebuilding the Temple. As Ezra wrote, Cyrus did this “to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” (see Jeremiah, 25:8-13). Peace and freedom had returned to Jerusalem and centered around the Temple.

The second Temple had been rebuilt and expanded by King Herod; it essentially was complete during Jesus’ time on earth. The sacredness of the Temple was undiminished. Jesus visited the Temple as a child and as an adult. He seemed to be referring to the Temple when he said” tear down this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” The people would have received this statement in a very deep emotional way considering the long and difficult history of the temple. Jesus had their attention, but he was referring to his own body and his resurrection. Stones and mortar will never be able to convey God’s love for us as well as the life and words of Jesus. In today’s gospel Jesus tells us to let our light shine. Put it on a lampstand and let everyone see it. Whether our lampstand is a splendid and precious temple, a cathedral, or our own lives and work, our light will shine and encourage others. If we have [faith] more will be given. If we do not have [faith] and only pretend for the benefit of others, this charade will crumble; we will be left with nothing. Even though Jesus asks us to emulate the example that he gave us and to influence others through our good works and actions, it is important to avoid hypocrisy. Let your light shine but be sincere in your actions and words. I found that Mathew 6:1-6 was a great aid in understanding Jesus’ teaching on insincerity and hypocrisy. We may even shed our light on others if we “...go into our room, close the door, and pray to our Father, who is unseen.”

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