In the Hebrew Bible it is written that the Israelites carried the Ark of the Covenant with them as they journeyed to the promised land. It reminded them of their agreement with God. If they kept the commandments (Ex 20:1-17) God would stand by them against all enemies.
In time, the Israelites constructed a Temple for the purpose of prayer, praise and sacrifice. The Ark of the Covenant was permanently housed there. After Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians, destroyed that First Temple the Israelites built a second one. Later Herod would rebuild and enlarge it. John’s gospel for today (John 2:13-25) was written decades after the Romans destroyed that Second Temple in 70 CE.
By the time of the Second Temple many Jews were scattered from Asia Minor to Europe. They were still obliged to make a pilgrimage to the Temple Mount to offer sacrifice and purify themselves in the Temple baths in preparation for Passover. Some brought their own animals for sacrifice. Others would buy them from local merchants. The area was teeming with activity like any marketplace overwhelmed by huge crowds.
Free lance journalist Tia Ghose reported that Jerusalem was a bustling metropolis at the time [of Passover] and “the city's economic heart was the Holy Temple, the only place where Israelites could sacrifice animals as offerings to God.” Apparently, archeological discoveries of dumping grounds outside Jerusalem suggest that slaughtering these animals was a big business. Passover was good for Jerusalem’s economy so why did Jesus create such bedlam in the Temple precincts?
Jesus observed and interpreted the corruption and greed surrounding the feast of Passover as emblematic of the degradation of the Temple and its precinct. An angry Jesus protested and, in a reference to his body, shouted, “destroy this temple and I will build it up in three days!” Jesus thus signaled an end to the old order of law and worship. The new emphasis would be on the Body of Christ.
In the words of Mary McGlone “driving corruption from the temple was just the surface of Jesus' message that day.” What really annoyed the authorities was Jesus’ prophetic proclamation that “he, a human being, was the new temple … that encounters with genuine humanity offers an experience of the real presence of God.” Greek scholar Alicia Myers adds: “Jesus Christ is the location of God’s glory rather than the temple building in which he stands.” This statement also reminds us that our church buildings are not dwelling places for God. God’s presence is a spirited radiance shining within us.
What then causes us to be outraged? What cultural-socio-political-religious structures need to be torn down today to make space for reconstructing societies and religions? Some are familiar: the growing gap between wealthy and poor people, child abuse and human trafficking, white supremacy, racism, sexism, outdated immigration laws, restrictions on voting rights, climate change denial, and on the religious page, a resurgence of clericalism in church ministries.
On the world stage Pope Francis is doing his part to dismantle injustices and corruption. His visit to Iraq was a historically and politically difficult mission. He went there to encourage Christians who have been devastated by mass killings and ongoing religious oppression. He spoke with empathy in the Syriac Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad where 48 martyrs were executed in 2010.
The pope’s visit was ladened with symbolism and a global message about working for peace in the Middle East. He aimed to give hope to the people urging them to regain their dignity, their human rights. He focused on healing the relations between Christians and Muslims that are still severely strained.
Papal trips help shape the world view of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis has a far reaching vision for a safer, kinder, egalitarian world and wants his church to be an example. While we are grateful for this perspective, we wait for what also is necessary in a church based on human dignity.
The Catholic church can be a model only when all of its members, women and men alike, are seen as equal partners and leaders in worship, mission and administration. This collegial vision is stymied by outdated doctrines, the limits placed on women just because they are women, patriarchal clerics and a traditionalist minded laity. Many have lost sight of the primal Christian commandment to treat one another equally. Our covenant relationship with God and each other matters. We are summoned to be the temples of the holy Spirit God, living stones witnessing to the mission and message of Jesus. (1 Peter 2:4-5) As avowed members of this mystical cohort we embody and mirror God’s glory with gratitude. As spiritual temples we become mindful of ourselves and others. Then we are inspired to take action for the common good.
We cannot impatiently take off our masks while the SARS CoV-2 virus is still with us. We also cannot cover up our radiance during times that are both troubling and promising. Our enduring commandment is demanding, necessary, and simple: love one another.