As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
Reflection Many of us have experienced the crumbling of our “temples;” loss of a job, death of a loved one, financial crisis, terminal diagnosis, or any social or emotional situation that leaves us standing or lying knee deep in the rubble of our lives and wondering, “Can anything good come of this?” And Jesus answers, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
Anyone who has given birth or known someone who has given birth knows that the vagaries of pregnancy and even the earth quaking pangs of labor pale in comparison to the whole life changing relationship that is born. Rules that described or governed life before the birth are upended. Returning to Jesus’ imagery, the large stones upon which pre-birth life seemed to be built are thrown down and life as before the birth is dismantled.
This is what Jesus is telling the disciples and us. When everything that is comfortable, stable and predictable on the outside is stripped away (in other words, when our temple walls are thrown down), we are invited to turn around and look inside for comfort and stability that does not depend on external circumstance. We can do this because we are more than what is happening to us. We are participants in the unborn, undying, eternally unchanged Divinity that unites us to one another in God.
Does this mean there is no place for temples in our lives? Absolutely not. Temples protect our truths and mysteries and sustain our wisdom traditions. They are the rock upon which we build our faith and our refuge among friends and ancestors who accompany us along the way. Still, temples must point beyond themselves to the entirety of creation steeped in God because temples will always crumble but the Word God, that was and is and is to come is always and everywhere present, beyond the confines of any temple walls.
Image Dali's "The Tower"
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