Friday, 20 November 2015

Week 33 (Year 1) Friday -- 20 November 2015

Readings: 1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 52-59; 1 Chronicles 29:10-12; Luke 19:45-48

All four gospels report the moment when Jesus took possession of the Temple, driving out the money-changers. John's gospel is constructed round the great liturgical feasts and shows us Jesus in the Temple at Passover, on the feast of Tabernacles, and at the feast of Dedication. Luke's gospel is very clearly centred on Jerusalem and specifically on the Temple. It begins there with Gabriel's visit to Zechariah, and it ends there, with the disciples praying in expectation of the fulfilment of what Jesus had promised.

Jesus makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem that follows the customs of the feast of Dedication - the people waving palm branches, singing joyfully and celebrating the coming of the Lord not just to Jerusalem but to his Temple.

There had already been significant events in the life of Jesus involving the Temple. When he was just eight days old, he was presented in the Temple for circumcision and was greeted by Simeon who foretold his destiny. When he was twelve years old he was found in the Temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Luke re-orders the temptations of Jesus so that the final one is in the Temple and there the devil leaves him 'until an appropriate hour'.

The appropriate hour has arrived and the Messiah comes to Jerusalem and into the Temple. Now he is the teacher there and the people hang on his words. It means not just a fresh re-dedication of the Temple to its original use and purpose however. What the leaders of the people realise is that Jesus represents a radical threat to the Temple system. He has come to destroy it, Mark tells us. He can destroy it if he wishes, Matthew tells us. Luke makes no mention of this here because, the scholars tell us, Luke is writing at a time when the Temple had already been destroyed by the Romans. In John's account Jesus says 'destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it': the disciples came to understand that he was speaking of the Temple of his own body. At the moment of his death the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

What does it all mean? The Temple is the place where God is present. It is the place of sacrifice and praise, of thanksgiving and atonement. It is the place where the covenant relationship between God and the people is celebrated and renewed. All of this now happens through the body of Jesus given over to death and raised to glory: this is what it all means.

Jesus and not a religious building is now the presence of God in our world, in his body, the community of those who belong to him and have been incorporated into him. He is the place of sacrifice and praise, of thanksgiving and atonement: his sacrifice offered once and for all is for the redemption of the whole world and his prayer continues forever. He is the place in whom the new and everlasting covenant has been established. In Jesus a radically new and eternally definitive relationship with God is established, and all men and women are called to purify themselves and to enter by faith into this, his house of prayer.

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