Tag Archives: Temple

Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah, an eight day Jewish celebration, which can occur in late November to late December, and Christmas, the Christian celebration on December 25th, are celebrated close together in time. Are they connected beyond that?

The quick answer usually given is no, but think about it a little. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC. After conquering Judea, the Syrian leader plundered the temple, ended Jewish services and erected an altar to Zeus in it.

Leading a Jewish revolt, Judas Maccabeus reconquered the city, cleansed the temple and initiated an eight day celebration in memory of the event. Eight lights lit successively call people to God’s holy place.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was in the temple as Creator and Savior. For Christians God reveals his presence in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself God’s Son, “the light of the world” as he celebrated the Jewish feasts in the temple. (John 7-10)

All the gospels report that Jesus cleansed the temple  and spoke of himself replacing it. Luke’s gospel  begins in the temple with the promise to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist and ends as the Child Jesus enters his “Father’s house.” (Luke 1-2) Our readings today link the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and the Jesus cleansing the temple: 1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48

Far from being separate, Hanukkah and Christmas are connected in their celebration of God’s presence. Hanukkah reminds us of the temple, the place of God’s provisional presence. The Christmas mystery reminds us of the abiding presence of God with us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light that never fails, who gives life to all nations.

Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

“Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist”
A reflection on Matthew 9:9-13, 12:6-8; Hosea 6:6
Related post: The Call of Matthew
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13 (NABRE)

I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

Matthew 12:6-8 (NABRE)

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, 
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6 (NKJV)

Laws of ritual purity dominated the culture of the Jews, from the temple precincts to the home and marketplace. Sacrifice and burnt offerings seemed to be the heart of true religion, along with avoidance of impure persons and objects. 

Jesus transcended the division between pure and impure, clean and unclean to embrace “tax collectors and sinners,” Jews and Gentiles. Jesus demonstrated that the true sacrifice and oblation of the heart are divine mercy and love for all without discrimination. 

The true temple of God is not a place, but a Person—Jesus Christ—who came to transform all persons into temples of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
Jesus meets a woman accused of adultery in the temple area during the Feast of the Tabernacles, according to John’s Gospel. He claims to be the light of the world and living water. His enemies, fiercely disputing his claims, likely brought the woman before him to discredit him. He said, “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just…” (John 5:30) Here was a test.

Moses, the woman’s accusers say, commanded she be stoned. What is your judgment?

Adultery, though, is not the greatest issue here. Gender injustice is also on the table. Jewish religious law said if a woman were caught in the act of adultery and two men witnessed it, she could be stoned to death or strangled. The system obviously led to abuse; two witnesses paid by a vengeful husband might give false testimony and have her stoned to death. The woman becomes a victim and the man avoids blame.

Jesus, who brings a lens of justice and mercy to every age, brought life and light to the woman in the temple that day. Her accusers met his judgment.

The story of Suzanna from the Book of Daniel, like the gospel story, is also about injustice and  abuse of power. Two old men, judges with lots of power, think they can do anything they want. Abuse of power, combined with lust, is still behind many of our sexual crimes today. It’s found in the workplace, in politics, in the celebrity and sports world, and also unfortunately in the world of religion. 

Suzannah refuses to give in to their advances, and she finds a champion in Daniel who faces up to the powerful men. Her story calls for standing up for truth and fighting against abuse of power wherever we find it.  

Lord,
let me judge others fairly with your eyes, your heart and your mind.
Help me work for a world that is right and just.
Give me the grace to know myself.

Saturday, 4th Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings
The lenten readings from John’s gospel for today and the next week of lent (chapters 7-10) describe Jesus‘ activity in Jerusalem during the eight- day Feast of Tabernacles, the popular autumn feast that brought many visitors to the city to celebrate the grape harvest and pray for rain. Water was brought into the temple courtyard from the Pool of Siloam and lighted torches were ablaze during the celebration.

Arriving late for the feast, Jesus taught in the temple area and revealed who he was, using the images of water and light. His cure of the blind man, in the 9th chapter of the gospel, is a sign of the light he bestows on a blind world.

Yet, some don’t see. Those hearing him are divided; some want him arrested, some believe, some question his Galilean origins and his upbringing as a carpenter’s son. How can he be the Messiah, a teacher in Israel?

We’re surprised at unbelief before the Word of God on his way from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Why didn’t all see and believe? People doubted him then, and they  doubt him now. Even his disciples are slow to believe. “How slow you are to believe…”Jesus says to the two on the way to Emmaus.

But the Word continues to teach in our world and to instruct disciples weak in faith. His mission is not ended. Saints like Paul of the Cross knew that. However fierce the opposition, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, brings light and life.

“All the works of God are now attacked by the devil, now by human beings. I now have both at once. Don’t be dismayed when contrary factions and rejections arise, no matter how great they are. Be encouraged by the example of St. Teresa who said that the more she was involved in enterprises for the glory of God, the more difficulties she experienced.” (Letter 1180)

The Lord is my light and my salvation,
Whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life,
Of whom should I be afraid?

Asleep in the Garden

Creation of Eve. Byzantine mosaic in Monreale, 12th century.

5th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year I)

Genesis 2:18-25; Psalm 128

The creation story of cosmic and human origins in Genesis is shrouded in mystery, enigma, and impenetrable conundrums. The first chapter poetically captures the goodness, beauty and delight taken by the Creator God in the heavens and the earth, culminating in his “rest” (shabath) on the seventh day as in a temple. The second chapter develops the story of human origins in particular and also sets up the conflict and plot to follow. As soon as the two trees of life and knowledge are pointed out to Adam, the possibility of death is introduced.

You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.

Genesis 2:16-17

The tree of knowledge of good and evil is enigmatic at this point, for “evil” would have been meaningless in a world fresh from the Creator’s hand. A limitation set on human freedom did not detract from the goodness of creation, for it was a gift to exercise Adam’s trust and love and bring him to maturity. 

Will Adam pass the test? At this point, God observes something wanting in Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 

After Adam names the animals, none of whom are “a helper suited” to him, God casts him into a deep sleep, “and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21). 

The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”

Genesis 2:22-23

Adam, who was one, is now physically two. Yet “male and female” were already in the single nature of Adam before Eve was taken out of his side. 

St. Ephrem the Syrian (fl. 363-373) writes:

God then brought her to Adam, who was both one and two. He was one in that he was Adam, and he was two because he had been created male and female.1

St. Ephrem’s intuition is confirmed by Christology, the apex of Christian anthropology. John’s Prologue states that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Greek word for flesh (sarx) translates the Hebrew word for flesh (basar) in Genesis 2:24 of the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The New American Bible (Revised Edition) translates basar as “body,” but offers the alternative “flesh” in its footnote.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body (flesh).

Genesis 2:24

The implication is that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, in assuming “flesh,” assumed both halves of humankind at once, plus all living beings, which are encompassed in the idea of sarx

The text of Genesis does not elaborate on why it was “not good” for Adam to remain as he was, but the task of cultivating the garden and securing the fruit of the tree of life now became the joint vocation of Adam and Eve. 

Psalm 128:3 evokes garden imagery to express the goodness of the home and family, a sacred space like Eden:

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table. 

Jesus Christ (second Adam) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (second Eve) are the ultimate answers given in the course of salvation history, for together they overcame evil and gained access to the tree of life for all living beings. The vocation of Adam and Eve to become “one flesh” and integrate the cosmos in their humanity was accomplished by Jesus and Mary virginally. Ultimately, the story is “good” because freedom, love, trust and obedience were perfected in our humanity.

Within the cosmic temple, Adam is a microcosmic temple—a dwelling place for God, the temple’s essence. Temple imagery appears in the creation of Eve from Adam’s “rib,” for the Hebrew word for rib (tsela) also refers to the side chambers of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5), Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezekiel 41:5), and the side of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:20). 

Jesus referred to himself as God’s temple (John 2:19-21).2

As Adam and Eve compose the temple of God, Christ and the Church compose the temple of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Many patristic commentators reflect that as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, the Church came forth from the side of Christ on the Cross.

St. Augustine (354-430):

Even in the beginning, when woman was made from a rib in the side of the sleeping man, that had no less a purpose than to symbolize prophetically the union of Christ and his Church. Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth that blood and water that as we know, signifies the sacraments by which the Church is built up. “Built” is the very word the Scripture uses in connection with Eve: “He built the rib into a woman.” …So too St. Paul speaks of “building up the body of Christ,” which is his Church. Therefore woman is as much the creation of God as man is. If she was made from the man, this was to show her oneness with him; and if she was made in the way she was, this was to prefigure the oneness of Christ and the Church.3

Quodvultdeus (fl. 430):

The great mystery is that Adam hopes after receiving the promise. He sees that the spouse in whom he believed is now united to him. Therefore he symbolically announces to us that through faith the Church will be the mother of humankind. It is evident that since Eve had been created from the side of the sleeping Adam, he has foreseen that from the side of Christ hanging on the cross the Church, which is in truth the mother of the whole new humankind, must be created.4

St. Ambrose (c. 333-397):

If the union of Adam and Eve is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband and flesh of his flesh, we also are members of Christ’s body, bones of his bones and flesh of his flesh.5

If all Scripture speaks of Christ,6 Psalm 128:3 is the voice of the Bridegroom about his Bride, “the wife of the Lamb.”7 The poem evokes the children of God the Father around the Eucharistic table:

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table. 

The resurrection of Christ and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reclothed Adam and Eve in their robe of glory at their “wedding.”

The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:25

They were not ashamed because of the glory with which they were clothed.

St. Ephrem the Syrian8

Asleep in the garden,
Eve emerged from Adam’s side—
His perfect companion,
Most beloved friend and bride.

Awake in Gethsemane,
Prayed Adam for his wife.
In a grove of olive trees,
His life pledged for her life. 

Asleep on the Tree of Life,
The Church flowed from Jesus’ side—
Blood and water from the temple,
Divine life to save his Bride.

-GMC

1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.12. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 69.

The Ancient Christian Commentary footnote explains: “Before Eve, Adam was two in that Eve was already implicitly within him. After Eve was created, he was two because he had been created male and female. Yet in all this duality he did not cease to be a single person, hence one.”

There is ambiguity in this explanation concerning the notions of “person” and “nature.” Based on Trinitarian anthropology, the nature of the universal Adam is one, but persons are multiple. Neither St. Ephrem nor the Ancient Christian Commentary footnote addresses whether Adam and Eve are unique “persons.” Current theological anthropology is still ambiguous on distinctions between person, nature and individual. Since humankind is materially divisible yet metaphysically one, the conundrum is magnified. In the case of Adam’s division, St. Ephrem intuits the simultaneity of duality and unity, but has not hardened them into concepts.

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote for other references.

3 St. Augustine, City of God 22.17. From Ibid., 71.

4 Quodvultdeus, Book of Promises and Predictions of God 1.3. From Ibid.

5 St. Ambrose, Letters to Laymen 85. From Ibid.

6 “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” From Catechism of the Catholic Church 134, quoting Hugh of St. Victor. 

7 Revelation 21:9.

8 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.14.2. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 72.

Living Tabernacles

Russian icon of the Crucifixion by Dionysius, ca. 1500, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

Why did the Son of God die on the Cross?

Many theories of atonement have been proposed since the early Church, but none of them are definitive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church simply states that the crucifixion is “part of the mystery of God’s plan” (599). 

Images of blood, sacrifice, temple, and altar dominate the book of Hebrews as Christ is shown to be the eternal high priest, final sacrifice for sins, and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Jesus repaired what was broken in the center of the cosmos, temple, and heart of humanity. Blood spilled on the altar of the Cross to atone for the primordial disobedience in the garden of Eden. The first instance of animal sacrifice, according to many interpreters, took place when God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins (Genesis 3:21). Fratricide and deicide followed in the wake of expulsion in the next generation.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field. ”When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!

Genesis 4:8-10

Bloodshed was the last step in a series of thoughts and passions ignited in the human heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identified the root of murder in the angry, hateful heart.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. ’But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:21-24

The book of Genesis stands as primeval witness to the heart of the “New Law” before lawmaking even began.

Then the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.

Genesis 4:6-7

When his brother lay dead, consciousness of the law immediately sank in:

Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. Look, you have now banished me from the ground. Anyone may kill me at sight.”

Genesis 4:13-14

A vague sense that Cain owed his own life for the life he had taken was expressed in his fear of retaliation. The Levitical law of “life for life” was instinctual.

Whoever takes the life of any human being shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:17

Life is sacred on account of its divine origin. Since Adam is made in the image of Christ, the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), any harm done to Adam is done to Christ. Fratricide is deicide.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? …I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; 26:14-15

These words could have also been addressed to Cain, for Abel is a type of Christ. 

All the blood spilled in the sacrificial system of the Old Law sought to restore the original unity of God and humankind but failed. No amount of animal blood could bring back the dead or grant access to the divine presence (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies. 

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

John 12:32

The Son of God assumed the humanity of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel—the whole human family—and united what was split asunder. With forgiveness and mercy on his lips and in his heart, Jesus laid down his life and rose victorious over sin and death. 

The New Law of theosis or transformation into Christ superseded the Mosaic law and Levitical priesthood. The animal instincts of the murderers Cain and Lamech were transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable the human heart to respond with divine charity from the Father’s heart:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:38-39, 43-48

The ultimate end of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is to pour out the Holy Spirit on the earth, deify the children of Adam, and unite human persons and the cosmos in the love of God the Father. Persons and the cosmos are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the heart is God’s sanctuary and Holy of Holies.

“This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord:
‘I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them upon their minds,’”

he also says:
“Their sins and their evildoing
I will remember no more.”

Hebrews 10:16-17

Each one of us can build a tabernacle for God in himself. For if, as some before us have said, this tabernacle represents a figure of the whole world, and if each individual can have an image of the world in oneself, why should not each individual be able to fulfill the form of the tabernacle in oneself? …For that part within you which is most valuable of all can act the part of priest—the part which some call the first principle of the heart, others the rational sense or the substance of the mind or whatever other name one wishes to give to that part of us which makes us capable of receiving God.

Origen (fl. c. 200-254)1

The Image of the Blessed Trinity rests in the most intimate, hidden, and inmost ground of the soul, where God is present essentially, actively, and substantially. Here God acts and exists and rejoices in Himself, and to separate God from this inmost ground would be as impossible as separating Him from Himself… And thus in the depth of this ground the soul possesses everything by grace which God possesses by nature.

Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361)2

Fractured Adam
Shattered glass
Made one in Christ
By Love on the Cross
Not glued together
Nor sewn in patches
But indivisibly divided
Divided indivisibly
Trinity in Unity 
Unity in Trinity
We are children of God
Living tabernacles

-GMC

1 Origen, Homilies on Exodus 9.4. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Hebrews, Erik M. Heen and Philip D. W. Krey, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 132-3.

2 Sermon 29 from Johannes Tauler, Sermons, trans. Maria Shrady, Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), 105.

From Melchizedek to Adam

Replica of the Temple menorah, made by the Temple Institute, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem.

The Lord has sworn and will not waver:
“You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4

The dreamlike quality of the mysterious Melchizedek defies logical analysis and reasoning. Efforts to pin down his identity from ancient times to the present have failed. The Spirit of Scripture seems unvexed by analytical demands for clarity, for the historicity of the King of Salem adds nothing to the portrait of Christ, the eternal high priest. In fact, the very silence of Scripture on Melchizedek’s origins becomes the springboard for “arguing” to the eternal priesthood of the Son of God.1

Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Hebrews 7:3

Melchizedek is considered a “type” of Christ, as Adam and David are types of Christ. The entire edifice of the book of Hebrews rests on typology, a kind of overarching analogy that sees earthly realities as coming from and returning to a perfect, eternal model in heaven.2 Unlike a step-by-step rational argument, a typological “argument” is more like facial recognition. 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour 

William Blake

Instant recognition of “a Heaven in a Wild Flower” is poetic, holistic, and intuitive rather than logical and rational. The author of Hebrews similarly expects his listeners to recognize Melchizedek in Christ and Christ in Melchizedek.

The psalm that invokes Melchizedek out of the dreamlike past was inspired by the Spirit. For David had no precedent for saying, “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand’” (Psalm 110:1). We do not know how David understood “my lord,” but Jesus interpreted the psalm as pointing to himself, the Son of God (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 22:41-46).

David linked his kingship to a priesthood prior to the Mosaic law and the covenant of circumcision, for Abram met Melchizedek before he received his new name. The mysterious “king of righteousness” appeared and disappeared without a trace, blessing Abram during a sacred feast of bread and wine.

Abraham never forgot his encounter with Melchizedek for the story passed down from generation to generation. Hymns may have been composed in honor of this Canaanite priest-king who is “without beginning of days or end of life.” Melchizedek points to an eternal sonship beyond time and history.

Priesthood and sonship are thus inseparable and return to God the Father as origin. Apart from creation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pre-exist with an incomprehensible glory without reference to creatures. Priesthood appears with the Incarnation. 

When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than the incarnation?

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop (c. 467-532)3

The Incarnation and priesthood
begin in the beginning 
before the beginning
in the mind of God.

According to the blueprint of typology, Adam was made in the image of Christ, the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). The perfect Adam preceded the Adam of Eden in the divine mind, but descended from him in the Incarnation.

Return to the beginning
of the heavens and the earth,
When the Father gave his temple
and creation new birth.
King Adam, priest and son of
the garden sanctuary,
Protected paradise and
with all creatures made merry.

Primordial priesthood began with the first-created person, Adam. Selfless generosity characterized every action of Adam, the son of God in the Son of God.

Priesthood and sonship are thus synonymous with self-gift, for the Son is an eternal gift from the Father in the Spirit. The cosmic human person is a temple modeled on the Trinity. 

Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection restored the original priesthood of Adam and humanity. The Levitical priesthood, instituted on account of Egyptian idolatry and sin, was superseded by our priest of paradise: 

holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.

Hebrews 7:28

The veil protecting the tree of life in the garden of Eden, symbolized by the branches and blossoms of the menorah in Solomon’s temple (Exodus 25:31-40), was removed by the eternal high priest who granted access to the divine presence (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies.  

The Holy of Holies is the human heart.

But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Hebrews 8:10

-GMC

Related post: Melchizedek’s Feast

1 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 7:3.

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 8:2.

3 From a letter by Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop. See Liturgy of the Hours, Second Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Office of Readings.

Holding on to the Past

Temple

We’re reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews these days at Mass. Raymond Brown calls the work “a conundrum”  in his “Introduction to the New Testament”. Who wrote it, where and when it was written, to whom, why?  Hard to figure out.

Indications are the letter was written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD to Jewish-Christians, perhaps in Rome, who wanted to reconstruct the temple and renew worship there.  Martin Goodman’s “Rome and Jerusalem” (New York 2008)  offers an interesting picture of the longing Jews and Jewish Christians had afterwards to rebuild the temple and  revive its rites.

Our letter sees Christ as fulfilling the Jewish past and creating something new. Without dismissing the past, he completes it.

Do we face something like this today as our world and our church face change, drastic change?  We hang on to the past, not knowing the future and afraid of what it will bring, yet we can’t recreate what has been, something new lies before us.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us to face the future bravely, and keep before us the One who holds the key to what is to come. Remember his struggle. It’s ours.

“Keep your eye fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, For the sake of the joy put before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has taken his place at the right hand of the Father. Consider how he faced such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

December 19: Zechariah in the Temple

The priest Zachariah goes into the temple bearing incense to worship the Lord , “In the days of King Herod”. An angel appears next to the altar of incense and says to him. “Your prayer has been heard,..Your wife will bear you a son.”

Surely, the old priest was no longer praying for a son. Childbearing was over for his wife and himself. The promise of new life was long gone; there’s no hope for a child.

But the angel promises a child “great in the eyes of the Lord” to be called John, who will more than fulfill their hopes, turning “many of the children of Israel to their God.”

The old priest doubts and is punished with silence. He won’t speak until after the child is born. Then he speaks again,  as he announces to those at his birth that “his name is John.”

You lose your voice when you lose hope in God’s promises. You get it back when you believe. When John is born, Zechariah sings a song of praise at God’s unexpected  gift.

The Communion Prayer for today’s Mass says: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come.”

Never doubt the gifts God wants to give, Zechariah tells us. Doubt silences us. God’s gifts give us a voice.

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

Readings here.

Cosmic Temple, Cosmic Christ

Christ Pantocrator, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Licensed by Andrew Shiva under CC BY-SA 4.0.

28th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Luke 11:47-54

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1).

The curtains of the cosmic drama open with these words of Genesis, rolling out a lush garden of primordial integration when the whole of creation pulsated with divine light and energy. Ancient Hebrew cosmogony linked the ideas of cosmos and temple: 

“The heavens are my throne, the earth, my footstool. What house can you build for me? Where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)

Before the Jerusalem Temple came to be, the Earth was the temple of God. Before the Hebrews came to be, Abel offered pleasing sacrifices to the Lord on the integrated altar-temple of his heart and the Earth, the dwelling place of God (Genesis 4:4). 

Cain dissociated the altar from the temple, his heart from the Earth, and committed fratricide (Genesis 4:8). 

Stabbed in the heart by Cain’s assault, the Earth opened her mouth and swallowed the body and blood of Abel, the first prophet (Genesis 4:10-11).

The Lord said: “Woe to you who build the memorials of the prophets whom your fathers killed. Consequently, you bear witness and give consent to the deeds of your ancestors, for they killed them and you do the building. Therefore, the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and Apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute’ in order that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who died between the altar and the temple building. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be charged with their blood!” (Luke 11:47-51)

Instead of cleansing their hearts and acquiring the holy spirit of the prophets, the children of the murderers silenced the voice of God with whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27), a respectable cover-up for their own violence. Jesus saw right through the tomb builders and unmasked their hypocrisy. 

We have an analogy in modern times: How well do we in America and around the world uphold the ideals of the heroes and heroines whom we honor? Do we pay homage to Abraham Lincoln but fail to examine our own hearts and that of our nation for racial bias? Do we laud Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal,” but settle for institutional injustices? 

The prophets deserve to be honored. Jesus never sanctioned the destruction of their memorials. However, he challenged the tomb builders to go beyond paying external homage to conforming their own hearts to the spirit of the honored. 

From Abel to Zechariah, the voice of God was stamped out between the altar (thusiastérion) and the temple or “house” (oikos). The altar was “the meeting place between God and the true worshiper”—the human heart, ultimately, not just a manmade structure. “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13). 

In the yawning gulf between the altar and the temple, the heart and the Earth, fratricide after fratricide darkened the soil of our original clay with bloodshed. 

Christ, the high priest of his temple, would eventually be killed like all the prophets on the altar of the Cross in his kenotic obedience. Yet the Son of God is more than a prophet and a priest. His cosmic Body is the very temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2:20-21). Adoption by the Father through Christ, by baptism into his death, makes each person a temple of the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 6:19). 

The Earth could not hold the Body and Blood of Christ in a tomb as she did Abel to Zechariah. On the third day, the Son of God rose and renewed the whole universe, deifying her and pulling her into the love of the Trinity.

A change of heart was not forthcoming from Jesus’ antagonists, however. They were righteous in their own eyes, and honoring the tombs of the righteous confirmed their righteousness. Jesus joined the voices of the prophets and decried their hypocrisy, precipitating their schemes.

Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.” When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say (Luke 11:52-54). 

-GMC