Thirty Third Sunday of the Year 2019 ~ GSC
If you google search “Tottenham” you wouldn’t think this was a place where people lived at all. All the google results are about the Stadium and what goes on inside it. Communities and institutions are often defined around buildings: think of how iconic the Tower holding Big Ben is or the Statue of Liberty in New York. The Temple in Jerusalem has an even greater importance for Judaism and in today’s Gospel Jesus is standing looking upon the Temple He would have known when He walked about Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Indeed it is so important that elsewhere Jesus compares the Temple to His own Body. It is the Temple I want to talk about this evening.
The followers of God had no Temple originally as they wandered round, sacrificing at Sinai and at other places too. It is King David who first receives the impetus to build the Temple but he is not found worthy enough to do so largely because of his causing Uriah the Hittite to die because he had become obsessed with Uriah’s wife. Solomon eventually succeeds in building it, lining the whole of the inside with gold, and there is a great description in I Kings 8 of its dedication and consecration by the descent of the Holy Spirit. It’s worth pointing out that the Temple was not replicated with mini-Temples across the kingdom of Israel or elsewhere that Jews gathered: it wasn’t like we have a Cathedral in the city and then lots of churches throughout the area.
Solomon built this Temple three thousand years ago and it was destroyed some four hundred years later with Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians. The First Temple was no more and God’s people were without such a place of worship until Ezra and Nehemiah sought to build new one. It had one important difference to the first Temple: the Ark of the Covenant was not there. The Second Temple would also have started life much simpler but by the time Jesus walked through its corridors, it was being tarted up quite a bit by Herod. In this Temple, then, Jesus was discovered as a twelve year old boy teaching the authorities (Luke 2); here Jesus threw out the money changers because they had turned His Father’s House into a den of thieves (John 2:13-22). This is the Temple Jesus identified with His own Body during this dramatic event of cleansing.
In the Gospel this evening, Jesus talks about the day when the Second Temple would be destroyed. This happened soon after His life, indeed it’s likely that when St Luke wrote down the words of the Lord and they started circulating in written form, that by this time they had already been fulfilled for the Temple had been destroyed. This took place in the year 70, just some forty years after the death of Jesus, when the Roman Emperor Vespasian ordered its destruction in response to a Jewish rebellion in Jerusalem. All that is left is the small mound on which the Ark of the Covenant had stood and the Western Wall or Wailing Wall, where Jews continue to pray today, and it is an incredible site to behold.
In this evening’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that just because things will come to an end and people predict this, doesn’t mean we are to follow them and put our trust in them, for it may be that they will be leading us astray. “Refuse to join them,” Jesus says. There are a lot of phoney prophets out there and we are to be on our guard against them.
The casting out of the money changers is a warning to us about how we behave in Church, that we might not profane God’s House. It is to be a place of prayer. Jesus justifies his actions - as if He needed to justify them - by saying, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This confuses the religious leaders but the Lord was referring to His own Body, St John makes clear. Jesus came to die on the Cross, His Body pierced and bleeding, but three days later on Easter He would rise again. See here also the connection between Jesus’ body and all that we have said about the Temple: that it is the focus for worship, that is consecrated and has the presence of God.
Unlike all other children, our Lord only had one set of DNA, that of His Mother, the Mother of God. His flesh was therefore entirely received from her; the Temple of His body is born from Mary, herself a worthy dwelling place, full of God’s grace, she who becomes the new Ark of the Covenant for us. But more than the Temple, Jesus’ flesh does not just contain the presence of God because that would divide the person of Jesus. Jesus is divine in body and spirit. Jesus is human in body and spirit. Jesus is God.
Jesus’ Body is the new Temple and we will therefore worship God through it. Worship has always been both a spiritual and a bodily activity. Yes, we worship God “in spirit and in truth” and through it we lift up our souls in praise. But the Psalmist speaks also of lifting up our hands in worship (Psalm 141:2). We bend the knee in worship for this Jesus was exalted, as St Paul makes clear in his letter to the Philippians (2:9-10). But not only our own bodies, but also the Body of Jesus Christ: this too is here for worship. Him we adore, Him we bless, Him we adore, Him we hallow through our worship. Yes, the Body of Jesus is essential for our worship, hence we have the Lord’s Body under the form of Bread in our Tabernacle that we might worship God who lives in the Heavens.
St Peter offers this reflection too and extends this invitation to us: “Come to the Lord, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ,” (I Peter 2:5). We, my friends, members of the Body of Christ are to be built into a Living Temple. This Temple will be beautiful, not because we’re glamorous but because our souls are innocent and washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, offered up to God.
This building you sit in now is made up of bricks and it’s good that we can see those bricks fairly clearly through whatever it is that has covered them. Each brick by itself is rather insignificant, solid undoubtedly and needs to play its role in the overall structure, but together these bricks are crucial. If one brick was removed you wouldn’t notice immediately, we wouldn’t have to close the church down, and the whole building wouldn’t collapse, but over time that brick’s absence would show, would start damaging other bricks, would start weakening the structure. That’s not a bad analogy of our place within the life of this Church of the Good Shepherd. You may not feel important to it’s running, well, let me say to you, you are important and you have a role you are already playing by being here and it may be that there are other roles too you can live out: let’s have a chat about that they might be. Equally, you may know you do lots of good things to maintain our level of mission and outreach. Thank you for what you do. Each of us is a living stone of this Temple, you are precious, you will do great things in the name of Jesus. Remember, then, this holy vocation we have each have to be living stones of the Temple of God. Amen.