November 2 2014 (A) Dedication of t he Lateran Basilica

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Dialogue with Questions of the Day: We, the Church is the Temple of God and that Temple id holy.

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12). I saw a stream coming from the Temple; bringing life to all wherever it flowed. Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet and it is possible that he functioned in the Jerusalem Temple before being taken into exile in Babylon in 597 B.C. The Temple and God’s holiness for which it stood were central to Ezekiel’s mentality and spirituality. At the very hearty of Israel’s faith stood the belief in the divine presence with them, the understanding that the Almighty God was in relation with his people, was present to them. He was present in his word in the covenant and through the prophets. He was present in a very special way in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies. The divine presence could not be separated from the divine holiness and all that this word indicated. God’s glory resided in the Temple, and his glory, his holiness and his presence with his people, could not be separated from one another. The Temple was a created, material being while the glory and the presence of the Unseen God belonged to another realm, and there was a danger that the Temple would not in practice always reflect this. The Bible itself alerted Israel to this danger. The Temple had connections with the king and state politics as well as being a centre for divine worship. While the Temple, as seat of the divine presence, was intended to be a sign of divine holiness, this was not always the case. During the period leading up to the destruction of the city and Temple, there was pressure from the surrounding paganism. While in Babylon, seated with the elders of Judah, and before the destruction of the city and Temple, the spirit of God took Ezekiel in a vision to see for himself how matters were in the Temple, with the idolatry that had become part of it, with shrines and worship of different pagan gods and goddesses, Osiris, it would seem, the Sumero-Accadian god Tammuz of Mesopotamia, and apparently worship of the Egyptian sun-god, all abominations to the God of Israel. The divine presence, the glory of God, could not dwell in such a polluted Temple. The “glory of the Lord” is a favourite phrase in the book of Ezekiel, where it is used nineteen times. In his vision Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord leave the Temple and move to the east, to be with the exiles in Babylon, from whom would emerge the new people of God in Palestine after the exile. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the prophet had another vision on the future of the people of Judah, and in particular on the Temple. He saw in vision a new Temple being built and the glory of the Lord returning to that Temple. Today’s reading is part of that vision, with its vision of the water flowing from the Temple, a prophecy in keeping with similar texts in Joel 3:18, Zechariah 14:8 and the Apocalypse (Revelation) of John chapter 22. The vision on the water is to be understood as symbolic. The water will flow east from the Temple to the Arabah, the valley south from the Dead. It will turn desert in a new paradise. This reading and its prophecy goes nicely with the readings and the liturgy of today’s celebration. Jesus is the new temple, and the Church is the Lord’s holy temple.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 45[46]). The waters of a city give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17). You are the temple of God. In this letter Paul uses different images to illustrate the nature of the Christian community, of the Church. One of them, that in today’s reading, is that of the Christian community, the Church, as a building. A fundamental truth, made clear from the beginning, was that Christ is the foundation of that building. It is on this foundation, Jesus Christ, that the edifice must be built, course by course, by one generation after another. Paul has played his part, as an architect, in laying the foundations of his communities, as an architect and apostle who understood the holiness that is central to the Church. There was, and there is, the danger that that holiness might be forgotten. The Church is holy. Just as the glory of the Lord dwelt in the Temple of Jerusalem, so does the Holy Spirit dwell in Christian believers, in the Church. Christians are God’s building; they are the temple of God, and it is a very serious matter to do damage or to destroy the sacred temple of God, the believing community, the Church. God will severely punish any such behaviour. Paul’s serious warning is very apt for the Church of our own day.

The Gospel (John 2:13-22). He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body. The first part of this reading speaks of a journey by Jesus to the Passover feast in Jerusalem and to the Temple. For the Passover crowds would have gathered in the city and Temple, and more sacrifices and offering than normal would have been offered in the Temple, Animals would have been sold for the sacrifices and money changers would be needed to change Roman money into Jewish coinage. The Temple was becoming a market place, losing its status of what it should be, a sign and symbol of God’s glory. The Temple, as in Ezekiel’s day, had lost its purpose, something which led Jesus to act as he did, the meek and gentle one driving the buyers and sellers with a whip out of the Temple and overturning the tables of the money changers. Later, in the early Church, his followers would see that his actions were in keeping with, and inspired by, a text from the Psalms (Psalm 68[69), a psalm seen to have many texts describing Christ’s passion.

In his answer to a request of the Jews for a sign, Jesus replied that if this sanctuary (Temple) was destroyed he would raise it up in three days. With regard to the Jews’ observation that it took forty-six years to build that Temple, the reference seems to be to the decoration of the Temple by Herod the Great in the years 20-19 B.C., which would take us to the year 27-28 A.D. After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples understood that he was referring to the temple of his body. The New temple is the body of the risen Christ, and the Church is that temple.

 B. Dialogue with Questions of the Day: We, the Church is the Temple of God and that Temple is holy.

 Today we depart from the celebration of the usual Sunday liturgy and readings to that of the celebration of the dedication of a Basilica in Rome. All dioceses have their cathedrals, even if they are not basilicas, and yearly they celebrate the memory of this dedication. The cathedral of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is the Lateran Basilica, the dedication of which we celebrate today, in accord with the general rubrics of the liturgy, when this day, 9 November, falls on a Sunday. Some may object to this celebration as somewhat of an imposition. But not to worry! The liturgical readings are all about the significance of Temple, cathedral, and church, any of these, not about the Lateran Basilica. Today’s readings are so much about the significance of the Temple, old and new, that reflection on the gospel will entail reference to the other two.

Today’s gospel reading centres on the Temple, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple and the statement that his risen Body would be the new temple. The anger-inspired behaviour of the gentle Jesus calls for some explanation, an explanation to be found in the significance of the Temple of Jerusalem. The glory of the Lord was understood as residing in the Temple, enthroned above the Holy of Holies. This indicated that the unseen God had willed to reveal himself in his word and presence to his people. The Temple should mean holiness and awareness of the demands of the covenant. But the Temple was a material building, subject to state and political involvement. In later times, those of the prophet Ezekiel, pagan worship had invaded the very Temple, making God’s residing there as meaningless. The glory of the Lord abandoned the Temple and went to reside with the exiles in Babylon. There was a new Temple after the exile, with water seen as symbolically flowing from it, indicating divine blessings. In Jesus day the Temple had again lost its divine meaning, with emphasis on trade and money exchange. At Cana (John chapter 2) Jesus had indicated the coming of a new age and of his own “hour” at his exaltation on the Cross. Then, in John’s Gospel, he goes to Jerusalem at the Passover and cleanses the Temple. His risen body will be the New Temple. This Temple is the Church, in which the Holy Spirit resides. Sanctity is a requirement for the Church. As Paul reminds the Corinthians, and all of is, in today’s second reading: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple”. This Temple of God, the Church, has recently been defiled by scandals, and is now being purified by God’s spirit. Let us pray that its sanctity will be restored, to become a living sign of God’s presence on earth.

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