The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord Jesus in the Temple is based upon the events recorded in Luke 2:22-40 when Mary and Joseph, fulfilling the Torah command and thus righteousness, bring the 40 day old infant Jesus to the Jerusalem temple. Biblical scholar Richard Hays says both ancient Jewish and Christian sources saw the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70AD as being theologically significant.
“Once the Temple has been destroyed and the holy of holies no longer stands in a building made with hands, the community must seek to discern how the God of all the earth will be made known in the world. In this situation, Matthew emphatically locates the divine presence in the figure of Jesus himself, who promises (in a saying that anticipates the resurrection and the ending of the Gospel) to be forever present wherever his followers gather and invoke his name.
In short, in Matthew 18:20 Jesus now declares himself, for the first time, to be the Emmanuel promised in the narrator’s opening fulfillment citation in 1:23. ‘My words will not pass away.’ Precisely because Jesus is Emmanuel, in his subsequent discourse on the end of the age (Matthew 24) he can offer the further remarkable assurance that his words will outlast all creation: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away‘ (24:35). If we ask ourselves who might legitimately say such a thing, once again there can be only one answer: we find ourselves face-to-face with the God of the Old Testament. Isaiah gives definitive expression to this theological truth: The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa 40:7-8) (Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, Kindle Loc 1197-1209)
Christ in the temple is God in the temple. The temple was a sign of God’s incarnation and Christ is that incarnation in the temple. The Christian understanding of Jesus as the incarnate God is the Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel. It is not the Christians reading “into” the text but recognizing the claims of the text in Jesus Christ.
The Feast is based upon the Luke 2:22-40 account of Mary and Joseph, fulfilling the Torah command, bring the 40 day old infant Jesus to the Jerusalem temple thus fulfilling righteousness – according to our hymns. In Orthodoxy we often see in this Feast the Jerusalem Temple finally fulfilling its destiny – when Christ is brought into the Temple, God finally and fully enters into and takes His proper place in the Temple. Gary Anderson points out that the temple in so many ways was a type of an “incarnation” of God in the Old Testament. The Scriptures make several references to people going to the temple to see God, and several verses in scripture make references to seeing the form of God – all this despite another stream of theology which says God cannot be seen.
“The first thing the reader must bear in mind is the Bible’s assumption that God has really taken up residence in the tabernacle. Michael Wyschogrod, in an essay on the notion of incarnation in the Jewish tradition, has argued: ‘God has undertaken to enter the world and to dwell in a place.’ But this deeply ‘incarnational’ character of the tabernacle carries a particular danger along with it: individuals will be tempted to co-opt either the building itself (cf. Jer. 7) or its most important artifact—the ark—to their own political and/or religious advantage and so compromise the freedom of God. (Kindle Loc 420-425)
The artifacts in the temple and the ritual of the temple, gave Israel a way to approach God and to be aware of His presence. But, there was a temptation to try to manipulate God by claiming to do all the ritual perfectly, thus making God a servant of the ritual – do the ritual correctly and God is obligated to the priests. Certainly in the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, there is a great emphasis on the fulfilling of the Law, but now it is God who fulfills it when Mary and Joseph bring the incarnate God, Jesus, into the temple. There is an unexpected turn of events where the fulfilling of the Law in not manipulating God but making God present! God is present not in some almighty, transcendent form but incarnate in the infant Jesus!
Anderson goes on to note that whatever the temple represents in terms of God’s own movement into the temple, this same temple always requires human cooperation. The temple is not God’s alone, but exists in and for the people of God who are essential to the revelation.
“The first thing to be observed is the parallelism between the creation of the world in Gen. 1 and the building of the tabernacle in Exod. 25–Lev. 9. As Peter Schäfer has put the matter: ‘The creation of the world is not, if one accepts this view, solely the work of God but also the work of man: only when Moses erects the tabernacle is God’s created order brought to completion.’ The role ascribed to human agency in this narrative is not to be overlooked. Human actions have become a nonnegotiable part of the way God has chosen to direct human history. A second and closely related point is the manner in which this building project succeeds in capturing the presence of God. Moses opens the rites of the eighth day with the warning to do exactly as God has commanded (Lev. 9:6–7). Aaron complies with complete obedience and succeeds in attracting the divine presence to the sacrificial altar (‘Fire came out from the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces,’ 9:24). In allowing the tabernacle to be built and the cult to begin, God has invited Israel to participate in the divine life. But along with this gracious condescension comes considerable risk. Because Israel’s liturgical actions are allowed to attain such theurgic capabilities, God’s freedom is put at risk. Has the priesthood gained the upper hand over the being of God? Can the mastery of cultic law allow the priesthood to conjure the divine presence at will? Mē genoito [May it never be]! As Thomas Hieke puts the matter: ‘This dramatic narrative dispels the misunderstanding that one can compel God to behave in a certain way through human—or more exactly—ritual action.’ (Gary Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis, Kindle Loc 665-679)
The temple always meant a synergy between God and humanity. Certainly the Feast of the Meeting places a great deal of emphasis on human activity, fulfilling the law, but again not manipulating God, but rather making God present in the temple through human activity. The incarnate God is not limited in glory or power, but rather holiness, omnipotence and the glory of God are present in a totally unexpected way. This is the depth of God’s mystery revealed in Christ.
According to Anderson, the temple’s every detail were so important in the Old Testament because all of the things of the temple in some way make God “incarnate”.
“Menahem Haran has remarked, ‘The priestly writers find [this] subject so fascinating that . . . [they are] prompted to recapitulate the list of its appurtenances time and again. Their tendency to indulge in technicalities and stereotyped repetitions has here reached its furthest limits.’ I suggest that this is because the tabernacle furniture was understood as possessing something of the very being of the God of Israel.” (Kindle Loc 2731-2735)
Anderson says the list of temple furnishing are repeated no less than six times. While many modern readers just see unnecessary redundancy and boring repetitiveness, Anderson says the text is so otherwise terse and to the point that the repetition stands out and tells us something very important is being detailed. Anderson further notes:
“(1) that the furniture of the temple was treated as quasi-divine in both literary and iconographic sources during the Second Temple period; (2) that the exalted estimation of these pieces of furniture made them dangerous to look at but at the same time, quite paradoxically, desirable or even compulsory to contemplate; (3) that the impossibility of dividing with precision the house of God from the being of God led the early Christians to adopt this Jewish theologoumenon as a means of clarifying how it was that Jesus could be both God and man.” (Kindle Loc 2740-2744)
The temple in other words was a sign in the Old Testament of the incarnation of God. The Israelites paid close attention to all the details of the temple because when the temple was properly put together God was present to the people. God could be seen in some way in the temple properly furnished. The Israelites could in some way see the face of God in the Temple. The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is when God comes face to face with Himself in the temple.
“Time! Jews in Jesus’s day and Jews in our own day have a very special sense of time. Time is moving forward in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a middle, and an end—unlike some other visions of time, in which everything is cyclical, going around and around and constantly returning to the same point. The Jewish view of time is part of the Jewish view of God and creation: God has a purpose for his good creation, a purpose to be worked out in time. Indeed, the Jewish people think of themselves as living within the long story of how that purpose is to be worked out.
But already, in the opening of the Bible, there is another feature. When God made the world, he “rested” on the seventh day. This doesn’t just mean that God took a day off. It means that in the previous six days God was making a world—heaven and earth together—for his own use. Like someone building a home, God finished the job and then went in to take up residence, to enjoy what he had built. Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in. And the seventh-day “rest” was therefore a sign pointing forward into successive ages of time, a forward-looking signpost that said that one day, when God’s purposes for creation were accomplished, there would be a moment of ultimate completion, a moment when the word would finally be done, and God, with his people, would take his rest, would enjoy what he had accomplished. –N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus, p. 136
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
In the Old Testament, the idea of The Temple is a place where the invisible God might meet His people. Many believe the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 is really God laying out the design for His Temple – which was supposed to be creation itself. Humans however in wanting a life apart from God forced God to abandon His plans and to expel us out of Paradise, the intended Temple, and put us on earth where we could lives separated from God as we had chosen.
The Temple in Jerusalem was built based upon the original design which God revealed to Moses. It was still designed to be the place where God met His people, however events on earth made it difficult for this to be realized. God’s people were not always faithful, the Temple as an earthly building became a target for destruction.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Simeon the Righteous meets God in stages: 1) He had been told he wouldn’t die until He saw the Lord’s Christ. He was looking for someone but he didn’t know who or what he looked like. 2) He is inspired by the Spirit to come to the temple – he whom he had been looking for was now present and could be seen. 3) He sees Christ as a child. He sees what the child, the Messiah, is to be and so is able to prophecy about Him.
The Orthodox Church eventually recognized the civil New Year from the old Roman calendar and both adapted and adopted this into the Church’s calendar making September 1 the “Church’s” New Year’s Day. Spiritually it seems strange, because I would say liturgically Pascha is the Church’s New Year for on that day we proclaim the beginning of our life in Christ and the beginning of the Church as is obvious in our Scripture readings from John 1 and Acts 1. In the Bible, the New Year also begins in the Spring right before Passover. God clearly commands Moses, Aaron and thus all of Israel: “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2). [Judaism though also has a “religious” New Year in the Spring as commanded in the Torah but also a civil New Year, Rosh Hashanah in the autumn].
It seems more that September 1 was simply the Church accepting the civil calendar from the Roman government under which it operated. We actually date things throughout the year liturgically as “after Pascha” and then “after Pentecost” (which is dependent on Pascha), not after September 1. The September 1 New Year Day has never seemed that important to me. Some today like to point out that the Birth of the Theotokos is the first Major Feast of the September 1 New Year calendar and August 15 is the Dormition of the Theotokos, so that her birth and death are the bookends of all Twelve Major Feasts. But I don’t know if that is an accidental coincidence or was intentionally designed that way, nor do I know when that idea that Feasts of the Theotokos begin and end the year was first mentioned in Orthodox literature, so I don’t even know if it is simply a modern observation or an older idea. Many pious explanations seem ancient but turn out to be more modern rationalizations for why things are the way they are.
Be that as it may, here is a quote for us to consider for the Church’s New Year. Genesis starts “In the beginning…” and it is frequently said that God started the first New Year’s Day by building Himself a temple.
“My thoughts turned to the book of Genesis. From the opening verses of Genesis through to the books of Psalms and the Prophets, the Old Testament envisions the whole of Creation, heaven and earth, as a vast temple in which the people gather in liturgy to give praise and honor to the Maker and thank him for the beauty and goodness of his Creation. God lays the foundations (Ps. 104:5), sets up the pillars (1 Sam. 2:8), stretches out the canopy (Isa. 40:22), and frames the windows (Mal. 3:10). He is enthroned within the temple, as heavenly and earthly choirs glorify his name.” (Vigen Guroian, The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key, Kindle Loc. 73-76)
It is 40 days after the Nativity of Christ, and His parents, Mary and Joseph, bring the infant Jesus into the Jerusalem Temple in fulfillment of the Torah commandments concerning the birth of a son. The Feast celebrates the fulfilling of the Torah concerning the Temple’s role in salvation and also celebrates Christ being THE High Priest of God forever. Christ fulfills and supersedes both the Temple and the Levitical Priesthood in beginning the New Covenant.
We can consider what the Temple is in Judaism and what it means that Jesus Christ both fulfills and supersedes the Temple. Our understanding of the Temple comes from Adolfo Roitman’s book, ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE.
1] The Temple in Jerusalem, like the Tabernacle in the Desert, was to be made according to a heavenly model which was revealed first to Moses and then to King David.
“As related in the Bible, the initiative for the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert came from on high: when Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, God commanded, ‘And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you – the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – so shall you make it’ (Exod 25:8-9). [footnote – Note that underlying this account is the assumption that the desert Tabernacle was built according to a heavenly prototype.]” (p 49)
“Significantly, David, like Moses at Sinai (cf. Exod 25:9), was said to have received a ‘blueprint’ in God’s own hand (1 Chron 28:19). [footnote: In antiquity people clearly believed that earthly temples were built on the basis of a transcendental, heavenly, prototype.]” (p 50)
The fact that the earthly Temple was meant to be built in the image of a heavenly prototype allows for a number of interesting comparisons.
A) The Temple in some way was thought to imitate Paradise, which was the image used by God to construct the world in the beginning. God was building Himself a Temple when He created Paradise and earth – a place to reside within His creation.
B) Christ is thought to be in some form the real Temple, of which the Jerusalem Temple and the desert Tabernacle were simply shadowy images. When Christ appears in the Temple, the purpose of the Temple is fulfilled and it reveals the Christ who is the real dwelling place of God on earth. What Solomon built was a temple based on a blueprint, but with the arrival of Christ, we have the real temple of God and no longer are in need of a blueprint.
C) The Theotokos is also portrayed as the living Temple in as much as she is God’s dwelling place on earth.
D) Christians, the Church, are to be the living Temple, replacing the need for a building of stone and bricks. Christians did not bemoan the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70AD, for they believed the true Temple was eternal and had already been raised up!
2] The temple is all about holiness/separation:
“In sum, the anonymous architect intended to protect the House of God from any contact with impurity and to enhance its sanctity by means of the three concentric courts and the moat around them. The source of sanctity, where God’s Presence would reside – the Temple – would stand in the center of the inner court, radiating its holiness to the whole of the Jewish people and the land of Israel, just as at the time of the Israelite’s wanderings in the desert.” (p 45)
The holiness of Israel comes from God. The Temple is made holy by God’s presence there. So too it is Christ, God incarnate, who brings holiness to the Temple, and makes the people of God Holy.
“In the biblical account, the Tabernacle had three main roles. To begin with, it provided a place for God to ‘dwell among the Israelites‘ (Exod 25:8; 29:45-46). It was also a cultic space in which, for example, a daily burnt-offering was sacrificed twice a day (ibid. 29:38-43)… Finally, it was in the Tabernacle – the ‘Tent of the Meeting‘ – that the Divine Presence revealed itself to Moses (ibid. 25:22; 30:6). ” (p 50)
There is a very important connection between the Tent/ Tabernacle of the meeting and the meeting of the Lord in the Temple. The Feast celebrates the fulfillment of all the Temple was intended to be. When the Christ child, the incarnate God, enters the temple, the Divine Presence is in the Temple and the purpose of the Temple is fulfilled.
3] The Temple is God’s dwelling place on earth.
“According to ancient beliefs, the main purpose of Solomon’s Temple was to provide an earthly dwelling place for God. This is clearly demonstrated by the account in the first book of Kings of the Ark of the Covenant being brought into the Holy of Holies: ‘. . . the cloud had filled the House of the Lord and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord’ (8:10-11). [footnote: However, this idea is deliberately revised in the present text of 1 Kings. In Solomon’s prayer… the possibility that God could dwell in the Temple is emphatically rejected (8:27). The text states that only God’s ‘name‘ dwells in the Temple (v. 29); the actual ‘abode‘ of the Almighty is in heaven (vv. 39, 43, etc.). The conception of the Temple’s primary purpose therefore changes accordingly, and the focus is no longer on the sacrifices, but on the prayers that will be offered up (vv. 28ff).] (p 53)
We see in the above what is often true in the Holy Scriptures: there is often a tension between conflicting ideas about God. This is no doubt intentional in the Scriptures to help prevent us from being overly literal in our reading of the text. The Temple is the dwelling place for God and/or the Temple is the place where God’s Name dwells on earth. God is both imminent and transcendent. This truly is fulfilled in the incarnation in which Christ is both fully human and fully God. Christ walks on earth and yet never ceases to reside with God in heaven.
4] Christ the eschatological Temple.
“In the last part of the book of Ezekiel … (Ezekiel 38-39), the prophet describes the future restoration of the people of Israel to its land, including an eschatological vision of the Temple and its cult (chaps. 40-48). The prophet’s guiding principle is the necessity for an entirely new Temple, free of any impurity and quite different from the unclean Temple that stood in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of 586 BCE (see Ezek 43:1-12; 434:6-8). . . . Ezekiel’s Temple no longer houses the Ark of the Covenant that occupied the heart of Solomon’s Temple; instead, the ‘Presence of the Lord’ fills the Temple (43:4-5). This is God’s abode: ‘. . . It said to me: O mortal, this is the place of My throne and the place for the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people Israel forever. …’ (Ezek 43:7). The prophet’s eschatological Temple will thus resemble the Tabernacle in the wilderness, built in fulfillment of the Divine command, ‘And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them’ (Exod 25:80).” (pp 53, 55)
We can note the literal fulfillment of what God says to Ezekiel that the Temple is “the place for the soles of My feet”. In the Meeting of the Lord, God is present in the soles of the feet of the infant Jesus. This is an unexpected literal fulfillment of what God promised!
It is not the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments which represent the Divine Presence in the Temple. For now Christ, the incarnate God, dwells in the Temple. Christ dwells in the Temple and is Himself the pure Temple of God. So too the Virgin Mary is portrayed in the same way as the Pure Temple of God prophesied by Ezekiel. Thus all that God promised and prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures come to fulfillment in Christ.
We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
“I give praise to Your holy Nature, Lord, for You have made my nature a sanctuary for Your hiddenness and a tabernacle for Your Mysteries, a place where You can dwell, and a holy temple for Your divinity, (namely for) Him who holds the scepter of Your Kingdom, who governs all You have brought into being, the glorious Tabernacle of Your eternal Being, the source of renewal for the ranks of fire which minister to You, the Way to knowledge of You, the Door to vision of You, the summation of Your power and great wisdom – Jesus Christ the Only-Begotten from Your bosom and remnant gathered in from Your creation, both visible and spiritual.” (The Second Part: Chapters IV-XLI, p 8)
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… (Galatians 2:20)
The mystery unveiled is that God enters the temple as a 40 day old child. In early Christian thinking Christ not only fulfills the precepts of the Torah, but reveals the purpose of all of the 613 laws composing Torah. All of those who brought their first-born male child to the Jerusalem Temple with an offering were prefiguring the fulfillment of the Law. One might say they were doing it all in imitation of the the real fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ. The purpose of this law of bringing the first-born male child and an offering to the Temple was to make possible the fulfillment of the Law when God enters the Temple as a 40 day old infant.
The Temple itself was a copy of the real Temple, which God revealed to Moses as mentioned in Exodus 25:9, 40 and 26:30. It was also a prefiguring of the real Temple which was to be further revealed with the coming of Christ, a Temple not made by hands.
Fr. Gus George Christo comments on St. John Chrysostom’s analysis of the Jewish desire for a Temple to replace the Tent of Witness which God reveals to the Israelites:
“It is Solomon who really wants the Temple, not God. God only desires the Tent of Witness. By describing David as a great man and Solomon as a mere castaway, Chrysostom illustrates the futility of having the Temple and the necessity of preserving the Tent of Witness.
Expounding further upon the differences between God’s Tent and the Jews’ Temple, Chrysostom suggests that the top of Mount Horeb is heaven and the original Tent is that in heaven where Christ dwells. Christ reveals to Moses that identical Tent when he ascended Mount Horeb and met with Him. God entrusts to Moses the exact type, or model, of this Tent, so human beings may have a place to interact and communicate with Him, experience His saving actions and miracles, and learn His laws. The Tent of Witness is portable and not bound to any one fixed place, like Jerusalem. Since the Tent of Witness represents the heavenly Church of God, it is not restricted to any locality; and, because Christ resides there and invites man to join Him, Chrysostom implies that each Church established by the Apostles during their earthly ministry is the Holy Tent of Witness, the point of union between heaven and earth, heaven itself.
Each Tent, as that in the wilderness with Moses, bears witness to Christ’s Sonship with God, thus revealing that the one Church (the Tent of Witness) can be truly seen in the many Churches (Tents) and vice versa.[…] At the provocation at Horeb, the Jews totally reject the Tent of Witness, and then introduce the sacrifices. Prior to this provocation, Scripture recounts of ‘living oracles,’ life giving precepts; after it, and as its consequence, Scripture speaks of sacrifices, those evil statutes, and ordinances by which a man shall not live as God desires.” (Protopresbyter Gus George Christo, The Church’s Identity, pps. 334-335)
Christ brings to an end sacrificial worship as the one time Sacrifice which fulfills all sacrifice.
This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever. (Hebrews 7:22-28)
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:24-28)
When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:8-14)
“…Central to Christian experience, not merely to Christian dogma, that in Jesus of Nazareth heaven and earth have come together once and for all. The place where God’s space and our space intersect and interlock is no longer the Temple in Jerusalem. It is Jesus himself.”
Though I planned to end the Temple blog series with the previous blog, Christ the Theotokos and the Temple, one additional thought came to my mind about the Temple. This is an idea I remember reading somewhere but I no longer remember where I read it, so I can’t give a proper citation for the idea, but want to fully acknowledge it did not originate with me.
The idea is a particular reading of Mark’s Gospel, 12:38-13:2 which follows:
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” [12:38-40]
And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” [12:41-44]
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” [13:1-2]
Frequently in homilies it is verses 12:41-44 that get the attention: praise for the sacrificial giving of the poor widow.
But I remember once reading a commentary which advised keeping Mark 12:41-44 in context: namely sandwiched between 12:38-40 and 13:1-2. Mark 12:38-40 condemns the kind of religion which and the kind of religious people “who devour widows’ houses.” This kind of religion is rejected by Christ who then sits down to watch happen what He just condemned about a certain kind of religion.
No sooner does Christ speak the words about those who devour widow’s houses (12:40) then along comes this widow who puts into her last 2 pennies into the temple treasury. Here at the Jerusalem Temple is the kind of religion which convinces a widow to give all she has and which takes it from her! It’s the temple religion which is being condemned. The widow is not being condemned, but a religion which would convince her to give away all that she had to get to heaven or to avoid hell is condemned by our Lord. A religion which impoverishes the poor is not being upheld as the model for the truth faith!
And then in Mark 13:1-2, no sooner has the woman contributed to the great temple building then the disciples begin to marvel at the great stones of which the temple is built. Does Jesus join them in admiration and praise of the temple building? NO! He tells them the entire building complex is going to be completely destroyed and leveled. The poor widow is wasting her money! That is the bankruptcy of a religion – taking the last pennies from the poor and giving nothing in return.
The “contextual” reading of Mark 12:38-13:2 suggests that maybe Jesus isn’t so much praising the poor widow but more condemning the kind of religion which takes every last penny of resource from such people and gives them a massive structure which all comes tumbling down into a pile of rubble.
This reading of Mark 12:38-13:2, certainly calls to mind the Prophecy of Malachi 3 where the Lord suddenly appears in the temple (3:1) and confronts in judgment “those who wrong the widow and the fatherless” as well as those who cheat the laborer of his wages and those who thrust aside the alien (3:5). All of these are related to charges Jesus brought against those who were running the Temple.
It is another view of the Temple – or perhaps of the wrong idea of Temple or of a false Temple.
The Temple is God’s vision of how He might dwell with His people, how His people become His Temple, and in the end the Temple is God Himself. It is a mystical reality that has nothing to do with a religion of rules that sucks every last penny from a poor widow and gives nothing in return.
The Temple is to be an experience of the eternal God, not a way for some to control and manipulate others on this earth.
All four Gospel writers report that Jesus engaged in a cleansing of the Temple (Mt 21:12-17; Mk 11:15-19; Lk 19:45-48; John 2:12-25). From what we have learned about the complex mystical and theological nature of the Temple, the fact that Christ the Lord thought the Temple needed to be cleansed – that it was defiled – shows how far the Temple had fallen from its ideal as the place where God dwells with humans. The verses we see above from Mark 12:38-13:2 are very consistent with what we see throughout the Gospels: namely, the Temple is no longer about God but has become merely about religion.
The Temple is something God revealed to Moses and to David. That archetypal Temple is God’s and not made by hands like an idol. The Temple in Jerusalem was from its beginning a copy of the original. It was a symbol drawing the world of humans and of God together, and a sign – pointing to the reality of which it was a copy, symbol and sign. It was not meant to be worshiped As Daniel says to King Cyrus in the story of the idol Bel, “I do not worship idols made with hands, but only the living God who created the heavens and the earth” (Bel :5, OSB). God not only created the heavens, but is the Temple in the New Jerusalem. No temple built of magnificent stones could ever replace that reality.
The Church is the Body of Christ and we are to be the living Temple of God. Our concern should be what we need to do to make this a reality and not to become another form of the Temple which is nothing but inorganic stone. Wisdom tells us that water can be the living kind of the baptismal font washing away sin, or the substance that petrifies the body’s bone into lifeless stone. The presence of God gives reality to the Temple, the Temple does not give reality to God.