Reflection and The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Belief in God and his Saving work through the death and resurrection of Jesus
Reflection. Each of today’s readings presents ample material for reflection; for instance the Gospel reading and the role of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Church in our own lives. The Temple in Jerusalem was intended to be the seat and sign of the divine presence of God with his people. But the divine presence and divine holiness are inseparable, and one can say identical, making the Temple a call on God’s people for worship and personal living in keeping with belief in his presence. The Temple, however, had departed from all this, had become worldly, resembling a public market. Jesus promised a new temple, his own risen body, with a call to all believers in him for a life of holiness in keeping with this. The Church also is the body of Christ, and the Church in its believers is also the temple of God, with the corresponding call for holiness in its members. Christ’s words on the Jerusalem Temple are constantly addressed to it. As the Apostle Paul puts it so well: “Do you not know, brothers and sisters, that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells on you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple”.
Dialogue. Today’s readings present a very good opportunity of entering into dialogue with one burning question of our own day, that is, belief in or doubts about the unseen God. Outright rejection of belief in God is today voiced abroad by a number. Others have only doubts. Others still regard themselves in a position in which they find it hard or impossible to “engage” with an unseen God. There are many who have a high regard for the spiritual, or the quest of the absolute (as they understand or state it) but want the nature of this “absolute” to remain undefined. The situation is somewhat as it was in Athens in Paul’s day. Paul addressing the learned Areopagus could speak of the Athenians as extremely religious in every way, and even spoke to them of their altar to an unknown god, this as a lead up to his statement that what they worshiped as unknown he proclaimed to as having revealed himself through Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. The result was a polite dismissal on the part of that learned body (Acts of the Apostles 17:16-33).
Throughout history, and in our own day, there have been and are movements intent on mixing traditional religions, which have their definite creeds of belief, with their own spiritual or mystical frames of personality and mind to produce a form of belief more in keeping with what they believe the society of their age demands. In dialogue with such movements or trends it is good to combine courtesy for the beliefs of others with a firm stand on what is essential to the Christian way of life, in the words of the First Epistle of Peter (1 Peter 3:15-16) always ready to make our defence to anyone who demands from us an account of the hope that is in us, but to do it with gentleness and reverence.
Judeo-Christian monotheism, belief in the unseen God, has never been too easy. It is basically a matter of faith. The Decalogue forbade any representation of God or gods, this against the temptation of falling into polytheism. The problem is not something of our own day. It has been there since monotheism, the belief in the one and only God, was first clearly formulated by Second Isaiah about 550 B.C. While this God is unseen, he or she, is not unknown. The Ultimate Reality, the Absolute, has spoken in many and varied ways, including through Moses and the prophets, but in a definitive manner through Jesus Christ, who has revealed the unseen God, the Father to us. Monotheism is not a mere abstraction. It is ethically oriented. To Moses God revealed himself not merely as One, but also revealed his will through the commandments, with regard to behaviour towards God and our neighbours.
God is infinitely wise, but has willed to save us not through human wisdom or by human means, but by the crucifixion, death and resurrection of his Son. No dialogue with any age can be meaningful without the mystery of the cross and resurrection, not with the Areopagus of Paul’s day, nor with any dialogue of our own times.