The Temple of God

For Sunday, March 8, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Lent

March 8

In Jesus’ day, the Temple was the center of Jewish religious life. We know from Scripture how much Jesus loved the Temple. He traveled to Jerusalem frequently to attend feasts there. Even as a child, he referred to it as “my Father’s house” (Lk 2:49). In fact, Saint John tells us that it was zeal for his Father’s house that motivated him to drive out the money changers in today’s Gospel, which has come to be known as “the cleansing of the Temple.”

However, as with the Sabbath, Jesus challenges the religious pieties of his day, not out of disrespect, but to bring out their true meaning. In the case of the Temple, he was revealing that he would replace it as the place of encounter with God, sacrifice, and worship. It is only from the perspective of the Resurrection that we can understand his cryptic words, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19).

When thinking about the place of the Temple in Jewish life, it is helpful to compare it to the place that Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome holds for modern Catholics. Like the Temple, it is a massive, imposing structure that has stood for centuries. While Saint John tells us that it took forty-six years to construct the Temple, Saint Peter’s Basilica took 123 years to build. The idea that it could ever be destroyed much less rebuilt in three days is unimaginable. However, what would it do to the psyche of Catholics if Saint Peter’s Basilica were to be destroyed with “not one stone standing on another” (Mt 24:2)?

Just such a threat has been issued by ISIS. In the wake of their brutal campaign against Christians in Syria and Iraq, they have vowed to overrun the Vatican and fly their flag over the obelisk in Saint Peter’s Square. While many are not taking the threats seriously, experts warn that the danger to the Pope is real especially in light of his strong condemnation of the terrorist group.

What if they were successful? Jesus reassures us that we would rise again. The buildings may not get rebuilt, but the temple would continue to stand, the temple that is the body of Christ. He promised that this temple would endure through history and would still be standing when he comes again. The church is a people who cannot be destroyed by violence, scattered by persecution, or eradicated by genocide. Burn down our churches and we will still gather for worship. Confiscate our resources and we will still find the means to serve. Persecute us and we will pray for you. Even take our lives and we will continue to be a church that believes in the Resurrection.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

O God, who in your inscrutable providence
will that the Church be united to the sufferings of your Son,
grant, we pray, to your faithful who suffer for your name’s sake
a spirit of patience and charity,
that they may be found true and faithful witnesses
to the promises you have made.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

—Collect from the Mass for Persecuted Christians, The Roman Missal.

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