John 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one.”
Reflection Thanks to the brave guerilla fighter Judas Maccabee, in the year 166BCE the Temple building is restored to holiness, the center of Jewish worship is intact. Still, two hundred years later in John's gospel text the Jews are looking for the Messiah, the king or high priest who will lead them to a happily ever after life. Lately many of them have seen and almost all of them have heard about the man Jesus, the inscrutable prophet who touches and heals, teaches with authority, forgives unconditionally, offers hope to all people, and at the same time he is irreverent, hangs out with all the wrong folks, violates Temple traditions and discredits the orthodoxy of the elite religious and political authorities.
The Jews are not sure what to make of Jesus. So when they see him “walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon” they ask him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” But Jesus’ speech is anything but plain. Of course, they do not understand. They cannot hear the deep meaning of Jesus’ words. They cannot see that Jesus embodies the temple, the new way of worship in Spirit and in Truth. (John 4.23) I believe this is what Jesus was alluding to earlier in John’s gospel when he drove the vendors who were selling sheep and cattle, doves and money out of the Temple and said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2.19)
From our privileged point of view two thousand years later, we know Jesus is not talking about a superhero’s brick and mortar magical building plan. Jesus is talking about his own body, all of our bodies, as the new temples of God, the new places of holiness. And, Jesus did not make this up.
From the very beginning we hear in one of our Genesis creation myths God speaking, “‘Let Us make humankind in Our image, in Our likeness’…. So God created humankind in God’s own image…” (Gen 1.26-27) Like Jesus, all of humanity is meant to be the dwelling place, the temple, the image of God. The contemporary theologian and wisdom bearer, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks cites Leviticus in which “The Lord says to Moses: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, ‘Be holy because I, the Lord, your God, am holy,’” (Lev 19.1-2) and goes on to explain, this is the first time such an all inclusive command from God is resolutely articulated. Sacks writes, “It is life itself that is to be sanctified… Holiness is to be made manifest in the way the nation makes its clothes and plants its fields, in the way justice is administered, workers are paid, and business conducted. The vulnerable – the deaf, the blind, the elderly, and the stranger – are to be afforded special protection. The whole society is to be governed by love, without resentments or revenge.”*
Sacks calls this “the radical democratisation of holiness.” Prior to this communication between God and Moses the Jews understood the place of the Temple to be holy and only certain designated holy people, the priests, had access to it. So this is a great re-turning point in our human story, an expanded understanding of our relationship with God and one another. We are all meant to be holy, to be temples of the living God, which means all people are to be dignified and cared for, at least as well as we care for our temples, our churches, our homes.
As we remember the Festival of the Dedication of the Temple shall we rededicate our selves, our souls and bodies as the new temples of God? Shall we reaffirm our commitment to dignify and care for all people as well as we care for our brick and mortar homes, churches and temples?
* Rabbi Sacks blog Covenant and Conversation, 8 May 2019
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