Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
Text: Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm 46; 1 Corinthians 3:9b-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22.
Saint John’s Lateran Basilica: I had to look it up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you haven’t heard of it either. As the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, it’s Pope Francis’ church, and so the titular head church of our Roman Catholic faith. This feast celebrating the anniversary of its dedication to Jesus Christ is a feast which seldom falls on a Sunday, so most of us don’t hear this set of readings often; I found it challenging to keep my reflection brief, because there is so much to say about them.
The cleansing of the Temple is a difficult Gospel, being one of the two times in the Gospels that Jesus seems to be acting destructively. There are several explanations for his anger, each having its own significance. A first is that he was offended by the displacement of spiritual space by worldly considerations. A second is that he was offended by the merchants’ and moneychangers’ exploitation of travelers, who needed to offer prescribed sacrifices which they couldn’t readily obtain elsewhere and carry with them. A third is that he was offended by the barrier this whole apparatus of specific and regulated sacrifices placed between people and God.
Jesus then answers those who question his right to drive out the merchants by announcing that if the Temple were destroyed, he would raise it again in three days, which later becomes obvious as an identification of himself as the Temple. This raises the question, what is the Temple? Or perhaps, what makes something or someone Temple? It seems to me that where God meets humanity, there is the Temple. Put that way, Jesus is the ultimate Temple: both God and human in one being.
Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, when she asks about worshipping in Jerusalem or on the mountain that “‘The hour will come—in fact it is here already—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’”1 In saying this, he reveals to us that God can live in us, can become us, too. The building or the mountain becomes mere window dressing to the real place of worship, that is no place and all places. Paul reminds us of this, saying that we are now the Temple in the world. I can think about that “we” in three ways: as myself, as the community, and as all of humankind. Here again, all three are worth thinking about.
In considering what makes a Temple, another related question which arises is, how do we recognize that a Temple is well-built? This brings me to the beautiful image of the First Reading. In Ezekiel’s vision, when the Temple is built to the specifications of the Architect, a spring of fresh, life-giving water arises from it and nourishes the land and even the distant sea. What springs from us, as individuals, as parish, as the Roman Catholic Church, as the whole Christian community, as all the peoples of the world? The Temple is still far from complete, isn’t it? Yet even imperfect as it is, a trickle of that life-giving water flows forth.
Thinking about the Lateran Basilica and all it represents to us as a largely liberal Oblate parish within the larger Roman Catholic community, I have to acknowledge my own mixed feelings. The Basilica casts a long shadow, but I believe that it is also still a source of water that nourishes our roots. Let’s not lose sight of the Christ to whom it is dedicated, and do our part to build the Temple of our faith community, though the bricks we bring may be shaped differently than others’.
Paul warns us that “each one should build with care[,]”2 and that “If anyone destroys that Temple, God will destroy that person[.]”3 How do we build up, and how do we destroy—or at least damage—that Temple, in ourselves, in each other, in our communities great and small, in our world? Considering together the three reasons I proposed for Jesus’ anger in the Temple, and the three contexts in which I suggested we consider ourselves the new Temple, and the connections between those possibilities, this is a rich field for meditation, which can lead to questions of economic and social justice, abuse of power, individual devotion, community inclusiveness, self-care, and many others. I’ll give you a few moments to think about them: displacement of the spiritual by the worldly, exploitation of the vulnerable, construction of artificial barriers between human and God; us as individuals, us as community, us as world.
Let’s carry those thoughts with us, and honor God and human together in ourselves, our communities, and everyone we encounter, manifesting and multiplying God’s passionate, universal love.
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1: John 4:23
2: 1 Corinthians 3:10
3: 1 Corinthians 3:17