24 December – First Reading


Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16

The reading from the Second Book of Samuel speaks of David’s concern to build a fitting house for the Lord. David has just settled into his new palace and it is becoming a source of embarrassment to him that, while he lives in such comfort, the Lord – whose presence is represented by the Ark of the Covenant – is still housed in a tent, as was the case during the long years of wandering in the desert from the time the Law was given on Mount Sinai up to the present situation where David now rules as king in Jerusalem. When David tells the prophet Nathan about this, the prophet seems to agree: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” He seems to have made this statement on his own initiative.
Because, on that very night, a very different message came to Nathan from the Lord. “Go and tell my servant David: “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” The Lord then goes on to say [not part of today’s reading] that since the days they left Egypt up to the present time he has been moving around in a tent with his people. What is more, the Lord never once complained about this arrangement; he never once was heard to say: “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”
There is some conjecture that here we have an echo of an opinion that was opposed to having a temple, which seemed to make Israel follow the religious practice of some of its hostile enemies, especially the Canaanites. And, of course, with the death of Jesus the Temple came to an end for his followers and the Lord’s presence was henceforth found in his people. “Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you!… For God’s temple is holy and you yourselves are his temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). The new and enduring temple is the Christian community which is the Body of the Risen Christ, his visible presence on earth.
But the Lord goes on to say that David had been taken “from the pasture” (where he was a shepherd boy) and made prince over his people Israel. God has been with David and his people, has protected them from their enemies and will make David’s name great. It is a new development in the people’s relation with Yahweh. From Moses’ time, Israel was a people of twelve tribes. Now it will be a nation organised in their own land, with a central and stable authority: David and his successor kings.
In due course, the Lord will give his people a house where he will dwell. It will not be built by David but by his offspring, specifically, his son Solomon. Eventually a magnificent temple will be built, one of the wonders of the ancient world. It would be rebuilt even more magnificently by Herod the Great and, in fact, the construction was not yet finished in the lifetime of Jesus.
Today’s passage ends with the words: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”
The key to understanding the whole of this passage (there are verses omitted in our reading) is to be aware of the meanings given to the word ‘house’. It refers to the palace that David has built for himself; the temple that Solomon will build; and the dynasty which David will inaugurate. David will not be the one to build a house for the Lord in the sense of a temple building but he will lay the foundations for a different kind of house, the House of David, the dynasty and long line of kings who will come after him – some of them good men and others utter scoundrels. Nor, in fact, did David’s dynasty last for ever. It fell in the year 587 BC, probably after these words were written.
Nevertheless, in the New Testament the line of David is seen reaching down to Jesus, who in the Gospel is often referred to as ‘Son of David’. And the Gospel for today is the Benedictus, the hymn of praise sung by Zachary after the birth and circumcision of his son, John the Baptist. There we read: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescue and he has raised up for a power for salvation, in the house of his servant, David.”
The implication of this passage for us in today’s Mass is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the new temple where God lives. We call her the Ark of the Covenant. A fitting place, a place of perfection without any trace of sin or evil. But later on, Paul will remind Christians that each one of them too is now a temple of God, of the Spirit of Jesus. In the New Covenant there is no longer any temple building but “you are God’s temple”, a temple of which each one is a constitutive part.
And so we could well remember that what pleases God is not so much the beautiful churches we build for him, but the spiritual temple he wants to build in people themselves.
Once again, we ask the Prince of Peace to come and take up his abode in each one of us and let us radiate that peace to all we meet.

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