by Father Mike Stubbs
The strong outrage over the burning of some Qurans in Afghanistan has been amazing. Riots have broken out; people have been killed. We certainly deplore this violence.
At the same time, these events reflect the high respect that Moslems show to the Quran and their dismay at its desecration. Can you imagine people acting that way in this country if some Bibles were burned? This violent reaction can give us a glimpse into how the Jewish people felt when their temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 587 B.C. They also would have been extremely upset, ready to fight.
Of course, there are differences. The temple of Jerusalem was destroyed as a result of a war that the Jewish people lost. As a defeated nation, they were in no position to retaliate against the Baby- lonians, who had desecrated and burnt the temple. It’s one thing when a sacred place is damaged because of a natural disaster, as happened recently to some churches in the path of a tornado. It’s quite another when it happens as a result of a hostile act. Then it is desecra- tion.
This is how Sunday’s first reading — 2 Chr 36: 14-23 — describes it: “Then he (the Lord) brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men in their own sanctuary building, sparing neither young men nor maiden, neither the aged nor the decrepit; he delivered all of them into his grip. All the utensils of the house of God, the large and the small, and the treasures of the Lord’s house and of the king and his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. They burnt the house of God.”
In looting and burning the temple, in shedding innocent blood in its premises, the Babylonians desecrated the house of God. At the same time, Sunday’s reading points out that, in a sense, the Jewish people had already profaned the temple by their inappropriate worship: “All the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.” The Babylonians’ desecration of the temple is the natural outcome of the people’s earlier sins.
And what were those sins? Most likely, they involved the worship of foreign gods and injustice toward other Israelites. Those are the sins that the prophet Jeremiah rails against. That is why God speaks through the prophet these words: “Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: ‘We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again’?” (Jer 7: 9-10).
The prophet warns the people that observing the prescribed form in worshipping God is not enough. Their worship reflects their lives. Only if they live according to God’s law, will God be pleased.
Unfortunately, the people do not listen: “Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place (the Temple). But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets” (2 Chr 36: 15-16a).
The prophets continue to challenge us to examine the authenticity of our worship and our faithfulness to God. This Lent is an opportune time for that, to prepare us for the fitting celebration of Easter.