Friday of week 25 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hag 1:15-2:9

Another exhortation from the prophet to the returned exiles in Jerusalem. It is a message from God through the mouth of the prophet and directed especially to Zerubbabel, the governor of the city, and Joshua, the high priest. In the second year of King Darius’ reign, on the 21st day of the seventh month the word of Yahweh was again addressed through the prophet Haggai. It is more than a year after the first prophecy which we read about yesterday – October 17, 520 BC and the last day of the feast of Tabernacles. It was on this feast that Solomon had dedicated the original temple (1 Kings 8:2). It was also a time to celebrate the summer harvest, though for the returned exiles the crops have been meagre (a sign of God’s displeasure at the people’s reluctance to get to work on the rebuilding of the Temple).

In speaking to Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and the Remnant of Israel, Haggai is to ask them if there is anyone among them “who saw this Temple in its former glory”. And what do they see now? Does it not look as if there is nothing there at all?

It was possible that some of the older exiles, even including Haggai himself, had actually seen Solomon’s magnificent temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians some 66 years earlier. In any case, others would have heard parents or elders talk nostalgically about its glories. Haggai had asked if any of them had seen this Temple in its former glory. He was referring to the new building which was seen as a continuation of Solomon’s. And what did they see in the new building? Almost nothing. That is because after the foundations had been laid no further work had been done

But now Yahweh, through his prophet, urges Zerubbabel, Joshua and all the returned exiles to have courage and get to work on completing the temple building. Because Yahweh is with them. David had given his son Solomon similar words of encouragement in the building of his temple.

“My spirit is present among you. Do not be afraid.” The same God who helped Solomon build his temple will empower Zerubbabel and the people. Similarly, the Spirit of God had rested on Moses and the 70 elders as they led the people out of Egypt and through the desert.

Then comes a prophecy proper: “For Yahweh Sabaoth says this: ‘A little while now, and I shall shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land’.”

For Haggai, God is the sole master of history. While the prophet is foretelling the disaster which is to introduce the new era, the world is temporarily at peace under the rule of Darius. The imminent worldwide catastrophe and the rebuilding of the Temple will herald the messianic age. From the later period of Ezekiel’s preaching onward, the Temple became, as here, a dominant messianic theme.

The prophet’s words are an announcement of the coming of God’s judgement on the nations – which the fall of Persia to Alexander the Great (333-330 BC) will foreshadow. The Letter to the Hebrews (12:26-27) links this verse to the judgment of the nations at the second coming of Christ. The background for the shaking of the nations here and in vv.21-22 is the judgment on Egypt at the Red Sea. In vv. 21-22 we read: “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I shall overturn the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kings of the nations. I shall overthrow the chariots and their crews; horses and their riders will fall, every one to the sword of his comrade.”

The prophet continues with the word of Yahweh: “I shall shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will flow in, and I shall fill this Temple with glory,” says Yahweh Sabaoth. “Mine is the silver, mine is the gold!’ – Yahweh Sabaoth declares.”

‘Glory’ can refer to material splendour or to the presence of God. The latter reference connects the glory of the Lord with the cloud that filled the sanctuary. When Christ came to the earthly temple, God’s presence was evident as never before. When Jesus was brought to the Temple for the first time as an infant to be presented to his Father, he was met by the holy man Simeon who spoke of the Child as “a revealing Light to the Gentiles, the glory of your people Israel” (see Luke 2:27,32).

Haggai’s speaking of the future filling of the Temple with glory points ultimately to Christ who will enter it several times during his life – each time making a significant statement about himself and his mission for his Father. Ultimately, though, as he dies on the Cross, the glory will leave the Temple, the veil of the Holy of Holies will be thrown open to reveal an emptiness. From now on, God has a special presence in his new Temple, the Body of his Risen Son.

“The glory of this new Temple will surpass that of the old,” says Yahweh Sabaoth, “and in this place I shall give peace” – Yahweh Sabaoth declares. The Temple now has become a focal point of messianic hope, a hope realised in Jesus. It is in this same second Temple of Zerubbabel, though restorations had been made by King Herod, that Jesus will teach. And that is why this Temple will enjoy greater glory than Solomon’s temple because the longed-for Messiah would be present there.

In our own Catholic faith, we have magnificent churches, some of them among the greatest artistic achievements of the human race. And yet, when it comes to glory, they are no whit greater than the straw-roofed hut in some mission station. For the glory comes not from the building but from the Presence in the tabernacle and from the community, which as the Body of Christ celebrates its Eucharist there.The church building is holy because God’s people make it so and not the other way round. It is only as holy as they are.

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