John 2: 13-22
In order to celebrate the annual festival of Passover, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem. After he enters the temple area, he drives out those who are selling oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers, saying, “Stop making my Father’s house a market place.” When challenged to defend his outrageous action, Jesus replies, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” His hearers think he is speaking of the temple in Jerusalem, which had been under construction for forty-six years. Only after Jesus rose from death, did his disciples realize that he had spoken about the temple of his body.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome symbolizes a crucial turning point in the long and remarkable history of the Catholic Church. The basilica was once a palace belonging to the Lateran family, dating back at least to the time of the persecution of Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68). Emperor Constantine made a gift of the building to Pope Melchiade about the year 311. Before Constantine’s rule, Christians were a persecuted sect struggling for survival within the hostile Roman Empire with its temples dedicated to the worship of many gods. The Lateran palace became the papal cathedral and the papal residence for over a thousand years, despite being ravaged by the Vandals, by fires, and by earthquakes. Our parish churches may rightfully look to this cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome as their mother church. Its feast of dedication also may remind us of our spiritual bond with our brothers and sisters in many countries where Christians may not worship in public and are persecuted as an outlawed sect.
In today’s gospel Jesus refers to the temple in Jerusalem as “my Father’s house.” That the invisible God manifests his presence in visible signs recognizable by faith is at the heart of biblical revelation. The opening hymn of Genesis celebrates the creation of the entire universe as the construction of a beautiful temple in which God dwells and may be glorified. God continues the revelation of divine presence not only in the universe and in the events of history, but in human structures — in the ark of the covenant leading the Jewish people through the wilderness, and in the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem.
In Jesus, revelation that God lives among us in visible signs reaches its climax. Jesus is the temple in which “the whole fullness of the deity dwells” (Col 2:9). The theme of the divine presence in the universe, in the events of history, in human structures, and in Jesus is extended as in a rich tapestry even further. Jesus identifies his body with the new temple promised in messianic times, and in turn his body is identified with the Church and with each individual member of the Church. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you” (1 Cor 3:16, also read Eph 2:19-22).
The Book of Revelation completes the theme of “temple and divine presence” to the fullest imaginable depth. In the end time of eternity, all earthly temples will be no more because God will be the temple. “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). Now we are temples because God lives in us. Then, God will be the temple because we will live in him. Annie Dillard once remarked, “Home is the name of God.” Because this is true, our faith can also help us have a new name for dying — Going Home.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.