Year C, Pentecost 26
After reading St. John’s history book, How Firm a Foundation, I went back to check my church history book by Bob Prichard, one of my favorite professors at seminary. I was dismayed to see that St. John’s was not mentioned. It mentioned Bruton and the settlement in Jamestown, but no St. John’s. If I had more time, I would have written that professor and asked him to fix his egregious error. Instead, I spoke to our own Jim Tormey and asked how this could be. He said something to the effect of, “St. John’s isn’t the oldest building, it’s the oldest community that has worshipped together continuously.” The building itself only goes back to 1728….still pretty old, but not the oldest. I guess it is easy to focus on the building because it is more tangible. However, I am still going to write my professor when I have a chance.
The people of Israel had a tendency to focus on the temple. When things were going well for the Hebrew people, the temple was a doing well and vice versa. When the temple was destroyed, it was dire times for the Hebrew people because it generally meant that the people were under foreign control, or worse, they were exiled to another land. So much of the Old Testament recounts the story of the temple. It is built and destroyed….rebuilt and destroyed again. The temple that existed during Jesus’ day was one of the finest temples that had ever been built. It was built under the reign of King Herod in about 20 BC. This new temple was twice the size of the old one and the outer walls were covered with gold plating. Pilgrims poured into the city and were overwhelmed by its magnificence.
King Herod did not have the best reputation and was certainly not seen as someone devoted to God. Many thought that the temple stood more as a monument to Herod’s own self-importance, rather than a temple in honor of God. So it is not surprising that Jesus was unimpressed with the temple and the beautiful stones that adorned it or the prospect that it would last forever. He knew that like all things made by human hands, it could not last forever. That did not mean that another temple could not be built in its place. It just meant that this particular one, despite its appearance of greatness, could not stand forever.
From this text, a lot of people have concluded that Jesus was against houses of worship, perhaps even a critic of the temples. This could not be further from the truth. It is true that Jesus liked to preach on hills, boats and large fields; but he also spent a lot of time in the temple. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was at home in temple. It was not his actual home, but it was the place that he always returned to, which is what I have always considered home.
The Gospel of Luke begins and ends in the temple. It begins with a priest named Zechariah being told by God that his wife will bear a son. This son would be John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke ends with not the death, resurrection, or ascension of Jesus, but the gathering of the disciples in the temple. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples immediately proceeded to the temple in Jerusalem to sing praises to God. In between these 2 stories, we hear of many instances when Jesus and his parents went to the temple. From the very beginning when Jesus was dedicated in the temple, his parents made sure that Jesus was part of the community of faith. The temple was the first place where Jesus went after he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days. That is where his public ministry began. Clearly, Jesus was not against temples. For Jesus, it was not about the beauty of the stones, but the beauty of the community of faith, the people of God. That is why Jesus was in the temple. God was manifest there. God was manifest in the people of God.
So why was it that Jesus wept over Jerusalem when he saw it? Why did he feel the need to cleanse the temple? Why did he predict the destruction of the temple? He wept because when he saw Jerusalem, he saw a beloved city that had forgotten who they were and what they were about. He saw a city that was headed for its own destruction because of its blindness. He cleansed the temple because instead of it being a place of worship, it had become a place where people bought and sold things to make a profit. It had become corrupt, a den of robbers. He predicted the destruction because that was the truth. Forty years after he died, the temple was destroyed once again.
Yet despite this sorrow, this doom, he had a message of hope for his disciples. He said whatever horrible things happen, you have an opportunity. Out of the dust and the rubble, will come a message, but only if you, the disciples of Christ, are willing to deliver it. He said, “This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words of wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict… By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
If I do write my professor, I am going to tell him this: “I don’t care about the oldest building. I care about the community that was built to survive, a community that has lived through death and rebirth, a community that is ready to testify, to be disciples of Christ.” Are you all with me on that? Because I need some people to back me up if I am going to try to correct a history book. Are you all ready to testify to not only the history that is behind us, but the future that is before us? Let’s not just correct it. Let’s rewrite it.
 Joel Green,The Gospel of Luke, 733.