Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – Readings

Commentary Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm 45; 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple. The synoptics report this event just before the Passion, but John puts it much earlier, just after the story of the wedding feast at Cana.

We are told Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem from Galilee because the Passover feast was near. When he entered the Temple area he found people selling oxen, sheep and doves to be offered by pilgrims as sacrifices. There were also money changers because Roman currency could not be used in the Temple and had to changed for Jewish shekels. Jesus was not at all happy about these activities.

He made a small whip of cords and began driving out those selling animals and overturned the tables of the money-changers, saying:

Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!

Of course, what the sellers were doing was not against any law; in fact, it was a necessary service. The problem was that commerce like this should have been done outside the Temple area, just as we would not be happy to see the Sunday newspapers being sold inside the church building after Mass. Hawkers tend to get as close to the action as they can and that is what was happening here – but it was still inappropriate.

Some of the Jews, however, challenged Jesus. “What sign can you show us authorising you to do such things?” What Jews were these? Were they priests or officials of the Temple who were getting a ‘cut’ on the hawkers’ profits and turning a blind eye to their selling inside the Temple precincts?

Jesus gave them a strange answer:

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

The Jews took him literally saying:

This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?

This was the mighty Temple of Herod which, even after 46 years, was not yet quite finished.

But, as John comments, Jesus was talking about the Temple of his Body. And it was only after the Resurrection that the disciples came to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. They are words we need to remember today. We are celebrating the dedication of a church building, but what is much more important are the people who use that building. It is they who give it its significance, and not the other way round.

In the New Covenant, there is no Temple building. The Temple is now the Christian community which is the Risen Body of Christ. Jesus is saying, “Whoever sees you, sees Me.” So it is important in today’s celebration that we recall who we are, and how we are to be seen to be the Temple of Christ’s Body for the world.

There is a choice of First Readings today. One is from the prophet Ezekiel and is part of a beautiful image of fresh water flowing out from the Temple in Jerusalem and bringing new life and fertility to wherever it flows. This fresh and clean water flows east into the Dead Sea and makes it fresh again:

Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish once these waters reach there. It will become fresh, and everything will live where the river goes…On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail…

It is an image of the Temple of Jerusalem as a source of life for all. And in today’s celebration, it points to the life that comes to the world through the communities which gather together in a church like St John Lateran and all our cathedrals and parish churches. Again, it is not the building which is the source of life, but the community which gathers together there.

In the alternate First Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks very strongly of the Christian community as the true Temple of God:

For we are God’s coworkers, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul sees himself as a builder, but it is not a building of bricks and mortar he is erecting, but a building of people. And he is only initiating the building work, others will take over from him and continue it. This building of people can have only one foundation, and that is Jesus Christ.

And he concludes in words that leave no room for doubt:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

So, in celebrating today’s feast, we are being called on to focus more on the kind of Temple that we are than on the building, however important and beautiful it may be. In the beginning, there were no churches and people met in each other’s homes for the Eucharist. Church buildings became necessary because of growing numbers. In fact, if St John Lateran, St Peter’s and all the churches in the world were to collapse into ruins, the real Temple of God would continue – in us:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matt 18:20)

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