Scripture: 1st Reading: Ez47,1-2,8-9,12; Resp. Psalm: Ps46,2-3,5-6,8-9; 2nd Reading: 1Cor3,9-11,16-17; Gosp. Accl.: 2Chr7,16; Gospel: Jn2,13-22
The temple was the center of the life of the chosen people. It was the place of authority because worship and life were meant to be the same. It was the place where the will of Yahweh, the King and Ruler of His people, was made known.
The temple, if it had been kept in its pristine purity and the reason for its existence respected, was meant to be a source of encounter with God where healing took place.
This was what the prophecy of Ezekiel made us to understand today. The life giving water flowing from the temple was meant to bring freshness, fruitfulness, growth and healing. It was to be a place where Yahweh would encounter His people as their providential Father who took care of all their needs. Unfortunately, the reason for its existence was never respected.
The Gospel today describes our Lord's indignation at the desecration of the temple built by human hands. The temple in Jerusalem was built by man but because of its unique consecration to Yahweh, it became a place of encounter, a place where Yahweh made His will known, a central place of cult and worship, the heart of the religious life of the people.
With time and because of the complexities of the sacrificial system of worship, the temple became a place of commerce and business. People who came from outside Jerusalem for temple worship and especially from the diaspora had to change their money. Barter trade flourished in the temple area. Sellers of animals thrived. The priestly family gained immensely from these rot in the system.
Our Lord knew that the entire reason why the temple was built had been overturned and defeated. Human interests and considerations for gain had been introduced. The temple that was meant to be a means of encounter had come to be seen as an end in itself. The temple that was to be the symbol, the representation of the people had become an institutionalized entity that stood on its own with little or no reference to its symbolic value. Unfortunately, the sign post had become the reality it was meant to point to.
Our Lord understood the real reason why the temple stood. That was why driving away the people who desecrated the temple was a warning signal about the fate that awaited the temple if its original meaning and purpose were not restored. Unfortunately, His warning was never heeded and the temple was finally destroyed about the year 70AD.
When asked why He did what He did and what signs He had to show for doing what He did, our Lord plainly told them: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Our Lord here was using the temple as a metaphor. The real temple he talked about here was not one made of bricks and mortar but His own body. He spoke here of the temple which was His own body. Three days after His death, He would bring this prophecy to fulfilment.
The word of God today therefore teaches us that we are God's building. We are God's temple. Christ Jesus is the foundation. God's Spirit dwells within us. By virtue of the Holy Spirit that made our bodies, hearts and souls His abode at our Baptism, we are God's holy people, the temple built by His hands. By virtue of God's presence within us, we are holy. We are called to live holy lives. We are called to preserve the purity of the temple, which is what we are.
Our man made places of worship are therefore signs pointing to who we are. They are called church for want of a better nomenclature. We are the church, the people gathered to worship and praise God. However, the places of worship, because the Holy name of God is mentioned there and God is there encountered, must be kept holy. It is not the place for commerce. It is not the place for selling articles, advertisement, self glorification, intrigues, politics, under the table dealings. It is the house of prayer. Let us keep it so in order not to risk the anger of God.
At the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the cathedral of the Pope as the bishop of Rome and the mother of all churches, we are reminded of the dedication of our lives to God and our communion with the Pope, the successor of Peter the rock, to whom is given the responsibility to confirm the brethren in their faith. May our churches be places of encounter with God.
Let us pray: "O God, who from living and chosen stones prepare and eternal dwelling for your majesty, increase in your Church the spirit of grace you have bestowed, so that by new growth your faithful people may build up the heavenly Jerusalem." Amen.