Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sacred Spaces: Keeping Them Sacred

By Colleen O’Sullivan
Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.”  So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion…  On the third anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled (the altar), on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals.  All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.  (1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 54-55)

Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” 
(Luke 19:45-46)

Lord, clear away whatever keeps my heart from being a truly sacred place for prayer.

Our Scripture readings today are about sacred space.  In a sense we could say that all space is sacred, because God is found in all things, but these verses invite us to be more specific.   Space is sacred when it is where we meet God.  For the Jewish people, the temple, whether in the second century B.C. or in Jesus’ day, was the holiest place to gather for prayer and sacrifice.

The first reading today comes from the second century B.C., a turbulent time for the Jews.  Judea had come under the control of the king of Syria in about 200 B.C.  This king allowed God’s people to continue to observe the practices of their faith.  However, when he died and his son came to power, all that changed.  This king ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods and even erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple.  Moreover, he encouraged the sacrifice of pigs within the Temple.   At the instigation of the Maccabees, the people rebelled against these Syrians and finally defeated them by resorting to guerilla tactics.

What we read about today is the lengths the Jews went to purify and cleanse their sacred space of the desecration and damage it had suffered.  The joyous celebrations went on for eight days and the feast became an annual observance known as the feast of Dedication or Hanukkah.

In his day Jesus finds the Temple being desecrated again, this time by money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice.  There was nothing intrinsically wrong with running a money exchange or selling animals.  People came from all over, bringing either Roman coins or a variety of other currencies.  They needed a means to exchange it for shekels.  They also needed to purchase animals to offer in sacrifice to God.  What Jesus objects to is the thievery involved.  Exorbitant exchange rates.  Inflated prices for livestock.  Exploitation of the poor.  All of it taking place under the noses of and, most likely, with the collusion and maybe profit-taking of the priests.  No wonder Jesus drives the thieves out.  As he says, this is a house of prayer.  It’s sacred space and they’re defiling it.

What about our own sacred spaces where we go to pray?  What needs cleaning out?  Is it the distraction of all those electronic devices?  That irresistible ping signaling a text message?  The desire to take just a peek in the midst of praying? 

Is it the attitude we bring to prayer?  Are we treating God like the great vending machine in the sky?  Are we so full of requests that we never give God a chance to get a word in edgewise?

Take time today to ponder what you can do to make your sacred space a more hospitable place for conversation with the Lord.

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