Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Temple of the Whole Christ: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica and the Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome
On the Thirty
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church celebrates the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, one of the principal sanctuaries in the entire Catholic Church. While it would be tempting to suggest that the Church is thereby suggesting that we are to simply celebrate the construction of central sacred buildings within the Church, there is something deeper at work here; something that includes the actual building yet transcends any one structure.

In the readings for this week, the deeper mystery at work is able to be viewed by means of the mystery of the temple.[1]

FIRST READING: Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
The angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the façade of the temple was toward the east; the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple, south of the altar. He led me outside by the north gate, and around to the outer gate facing the east, where I saw water trickling from the southern side. He said to me, “This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh. Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
The importance of the temple in the covenantal life of Israel is hard to overestimate. Among the many important aspects of the Temple that we could mention here, the most pertinent point to emphasize is that many Old Testament texts envision a new (renewed) temple cult in the future age.

One important text is Isaiah 2:2–3:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:2–3; cf. Micah 4:1–2).
While Isaiah contains other texts related to this hope for a renewed temple (Isaiah 25:6-9, 28:16, 56:4-8, 66:20-23, etc), the prophet Ezekiel also has pivotally important things to say about the renewal of worship and the temple in the coming age. For example, in Ezekiel we find an extended prophecy concerning the renewal of the people of God for a renewed cult (cf. Ezekiel 36–37), with the book concluding by means of an extended and detailed account of the eschatological temple and its sacrificial cult (Ezekiel 40–48).

In this temple, we discover a table that appears to also be an altar (Ezekiel 41:21-23), an altar that is described as having a mercy seat for its ledge (Ezekiel 43:14-27), and a prince who will provide sacrifices, which strikingly include peace and grain offerings that are described as having “atoning” significance (cf. Ezekiel 45:15).[2]

In our text for this Sunday, the prophet describes life-giving waters flowing from the eschatological temple and bringing life to anything it touches. In light of this prophecy, there is some evidence to support that during the feast of Tabernacles, large amounts of water were poured down the southern side of the Temple in a kind of liturgical anticipation of Ezekiel’s Temple.[3]

In summation, due to the nature and place of the Temple in the faith of Israel, the hope for a glorious Temple in the end times makes good sense, and in the responsorial Psalm, we are able to see just how important the Temple was in the faith of Israel.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
R. (5) The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore, we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.

The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things he has wrought on earth
In Psalm 46 we find an excellent example of the preeminent place the Temple played in the covenantal life of Israel. In direct contrast to the rather unstable nature of life, the life of the Temple is secure, for within it dwells the God of Israel. In fact, it is from the Temple that God reigns over the nations.

In fact, the temple and its very furniture were closely identified with divine realities. For example, while it is well known that in Exodus 33:20 God tells Moses that “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live,” it is less well known that Numbers 4:20 says something very similar regarding the furniture kept within the Tabernacle, “they shall not go in to look upon the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.”

As a result, it is possible to describe the sanctuary itself and its furniture as something akin to a physical manifestation of God. As the great Old Testament scholar Gary Anderson suggests, “these texts exhibit ancient Israel’s deeply held view that God really dwelt in the Temple and that all the pieces of that building shared, in some fashion, in his tangible and visible presence.”[4]

In other words, to behold the glory of the Lord in the Temple was life and peace for Israel. However, when Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was as if life itself for Israel had ended. This can be seen in Ezekiel’s famous “dry bones” prophecy, for Israel in exile without the Temple is likened to a valley of dry bones in need of new life (Ezek 37:1-14).

When Judah returned from exile in the latter part of the sixth century B.C., the Temple was rebuilt, yet it was clearly not the glorious end-times Temple prophesied by Ezekiel. Even after Herod’s restoration projects, the second-Temple was not the meeting place of the nations wherein life-giving waters flowed and brought healing to those who came in contact with it.

In turning now to the second reading, the Apostle Paul makes a rather startling claim: the promised Temple is at last being built.

SECOND READING: 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
Brothers and sisters:
You are God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me,
like a wise master builder I laid a foundation,
and another is building upon it.
But each one must be careful how he builds upon it,
for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there,
namely, Jesus Christ.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple,
God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.
In one of the more remarkable statements in his entire corpus, the Apostle Paul tells the church at Corinth that they are the temple. In light of the temple’s profound participation in the divine presence and life, Paul’s identification of the church with the temple would appear to entail a rather startling statement about the community’s participation in divine realities.

As N.T. Wright concludes, “If the spirit of the living God dwells within his people, constituting them as the renewed tabernacle (or the new temple. . .), then the work of this transforming spirit can and must be spoken of in terms, ultimately, of theōsis, ‘divinization’.”[5]

Moreover, it also appears correct to suggest that Paul viewed the church as the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel regarding the promised end-times Temple (cf. 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, Eph 2:20), one in which the nations would come to Mount Zion and be renewed by life-giving waters.

In coming to the Gospel reading for this week, we are able to gain a clearer rationale as to how all of this fits together, for in John’s Gospel Jesus begins his public ministry at the Temple, an event that can be seen as the key to unlocking John’s Gospel.

GOSPEL: John 2:13-22
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money-changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money-changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
In writing his Gospel, John is clear that his purpose is to elicit belief in Jesus as the Son of God (John 20:30-31). In particular, John makes use of signs from Jesus’ life that point to his divine identity, climaxing with the last and greatest sign of the cross and resurrection.

Here in our reading we discover an important aspect in the disciples coming to believe: after the resurrection, they believed the Scripture and Jesus’ words. However, can we say more about what they come to believe in light of the overall context of our passage?

In order to answer this, it is important to take a closer look at this passage within the context of John’s Gospel as a whole.

When Jesus enters the Temple precincts, he casts out the money changers and then declares himself to be the temple. Yet it is important to ask: why? Is he simply upset about making money in the temple? Is he speaking hyperbolically to make a point?

Rather than hyperbole, it appears that Jesus is stating something essential to his life and mission, namely, that He is the promised temple. In fact, in John’s Gospel this can serve to unlock the inner purpose of the book, for John places this story at the very beginning of Jesus ministry, suggesting that Jesus identity as the temple is central to his life and mission, as well as the literary theme of the Gospel.

In John 1, Jesus is the Word made flesh who “tabernacles” among us (John 1:14), as well as the “lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:36) Beyond this, in the same chapter Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will see angels ascending and descending on him, implying that he is the new Bethel, the house of God (John 1:51, cf. Genesis 28:10-22).

Coming to chapter two, before our passage is the wedding at Cana (John 2;1-11), wherein the symbolism points to Jesus being the bridegroom who marries the people of God. Yet in Isaiah in particular, God promises to both marry his people and feed them with choice wines. Where does this occur? In Isaiah 25:6-9, Yahweh defeats death on Mt. Zion and offers his people choice wines, while in Isaiah 62 it is Yahweh who comes to marry his people

This brings us to the reading for this week, a passage that serves to make explicit what has been implicit in John 1:1-2:12: the fourth gospel is about the life of the new temple, that is, of Christ and his church. With this being said, it is important to ask: how does one participate in the liturgical life of this new temple?

John’s Gospel offers some important clues, perhaps even “signs” as to how one joins the worship of the new temple. In John 3:5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born again through water and the Spirit in order to enter the Kingdom of God.

While some suggest that Jesus is simply speaking about the Holy Spirit in two interrelated ways, this interpretation fails on a number of fronts, not the least of which being this would mean that when Jesus states that one must be baptized by water and the Spirit, he would be saying that one must be baptized by the Spirit and the Spirit.

With this being said, it is clear that in John 7:37-39 the living water that Jesus gives is the Spirit. However, rather than seeing baptismal water and the Spirit as mutually exclusive, it appears best in light of John 3:5 to take them as directly connected. In fact, it is particularly interesting to note that when Jesus offers living water in John 7:37-39, it is during this is during the feast of Tabernacles, the same feast where it appears that at the time of Jesus water was poured down the southern side of the temple in anticipation of the coming of Ezekiel’s temple.[6]

All told, it appears valid to suggest that it is through the life-giving waters of baptism that the promise of Ezekiel is fulfilled and all nations can participate in the worship of the new temple. This appears to be further explained by Jesus in John 4, for he tells the woman at the well that the time has come where the location of worship is not as important as worship through the Spirit in Christ. In other words, the life-giving waters that Ezekiel promised have come through the waters of baptism, and through the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the new temple is at last being built.


In conclusion, our readings for this week point us toward the realization that the church is the promised temple, yet so is Jesus. So, which is it? Is the church the temple or is it Jesus? The answer is both, and perhaps the best way to understand this is through Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ, or what Augustine called the Whole Christ. Due to being one mystical person, Christ the head and the Church as his members, the Whole Christ is the fulfillment of the promised eschatological temple, and in this, we find the fullness of salvation and as members of his body become by grace what Jesus is by nature, sons and daughters of God, and the new temple. As paragraph 797 of the Catechism states:

“What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.” “To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members.” The Holy Spirit makes the Church “the temple of the living God.”

[1] For more on the Temple, see Yves M.J. Congar, O.P., The Mystery of the Temple, translated by Reginald F. Trevett (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1962); G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).

[2] See Andrea Spatafora, From the “Temple of God” to God as the Temple (TGST 27; Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 1997), 38–47.

[3] For more in this regard, see Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B, The Gospel of John, SP 4 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press), 234.

[4] Gary A. Anderson, “To See Where God Dwells: The Tabernacle, the Temple, and the Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition,” Letter & Spirit 4 (2008): 18

[5] N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 2:1021.

[6] For more see Moloney, John, 234-235.


Nick said...

The only thing I object to today's reflection is using the Name of God. It does not show Christianity's connection to Judaism, but shows misunderstanding of Jewish and Christian reverence for God, Who's Name is Unspeakable because His Nature is Ineffable. That said, misunderstanding is not a sin.

And I think another reason Jesus cleansed the Temple was to show our deification: the Church's continual purification unto Judgment Day and our continual purification unto death. This Jesus showed by the opening of His Heart upon the Cross as the Lamb Who takes away the sins of the world and calls us to His Supper.

Susan Moore said...

Thanks for this. Some of my favorite verses are those, find great hope and peace in them. Instant worship.

Will be so great to one day eternally dwell in the place where the Lord God the Almighty is the temple and the glory of the Lamb is the lamp (Rev. 21-22). I hear there is no mourning or suffering or pain or death there (Rev. 21:1-4), and “His servants shall worship Him; they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more.” We will finally fully realize that we're in Him and He's in us; Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Can’t wait.
Thanks for this.

Alex Wangome said...

excellent.Hadn't really realised the importance and magnitude of Christ as the New Temple; and how it relates to the whole message of John. Thanks!