• Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
• Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
• 1 Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17
• Jn 2:13-22
Some thousand years before the time of Christ the great Temple of Solomon was built. Previously, the tribes of Israel had worshipped God in sanctuaries housing the ark of the covenant. King David had desired to build a permanent house of God for the ark. But that work was accomplished by his son, Solomon, equally famous for his wisdom—and his eventual corruption due to the pursuit of power and wealth.
In the Old Testament the temple is often referred to as “the house of the Lord”. Sometimes it is called “Zion,” as in today’s Psalm (Ps. 46), a term that also referred to the city of Jerusalem, which in turn represented the people of God. The temple was a barometer of sorts for the health of the covenantal relationship between God and the people. Many of the prophets warned that a failure to uphold the Law and live the covenant would result in the destruction of the temple.
The prophet Jeremiah, for example, warned that having the temple couldn’t protect the people from the consequences of their sins: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD’.” (Jer. 7).
In 587 B.C., the temple was finally destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, marking the start of The Exile. During that time, in the 25th year of exile, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of a new temple (Ezek. 40-48). The description of the temple, part of it heard in today’s first reading, hearkened back in various ways to the first chapters of Genesis (cf., Gen. 2:10-14), including references to pure water, creatures in abundance, and unfading trees producing continuous fresh fruit. This heavenly temple, it was commonly believed, would descend from heaven and God would then dwell in the midst of mankind.
Following the exile, the temple was rebuilt, then damaged, and rebuilt again. Finally, not long before the birth of Christ, Herod built an expansive, glorious temple. It was there that Jesus was presented by Mary and Joseph and blessed by Simeon (Lk 2:22-35) and where he, as a youth, spent time talking to the teachers of the Law (Lk 2:43-50). It was also the setting for the scene described in today’s Gospel—the cleansing of the temple and Jesus’ shocking prophecy: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
Was Jesus, in cleansing the temple, attacking the temple itself? No. And did Jesus, in making his remark, say he would destroy the temple? No. But, paradoxically, the love of the Son for his Father and his Father’s house did point toward the demise of the temple. “This is a prophecy of the Cross,” wrote Joseph Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “he shows that the destruction of his earthly body will be at the same time the end of the Temple.”
Why? Because a new and everlasting Temple was established by the death and Resurrection of the Son of God. “With his Resurrection the new Temple will begin: the living body of Jesus Christ, which will now stand in the sight of God and be the place of all worship. Into this body he incorporates men.”
The new Temple of God did, in fact, come down from heaven. It dwelt among man (Jn. 1:14). “It” is a man: “Christ is the true temple of God, ‘the place where his glory dwells’; by the grace of God, Christians also become temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones out of which the Church is built” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1197). Through baptism we become joined to the one Body of Christ, and that Body, the Church, is the “one temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 776).
“Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,” wrote the Psalmist, “the astounding things he has wrought on earth.” Indeed, behold Jesus the Christ, the true and astounding temple of God, and worship him in spirit and in truth.”
(This “Opening the World” column originally appeared in the November 9, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)