Sunday, November 9, 2014

Flipping Tables in Temples - Homily for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (32nd Sunday in OT)

The Lateran Basilica

This morning, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Dedication of the St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. There is no saint called “St. John Lateran.” Rather, the church is named Lateran after the Roman hill upon which it is built; and it is named St. John for St. John the Baptist and for St. John the Evangelist. It is a beautiful church which I was blessed to be able to visit when I lived in Rome. Inside, you would find an awesome place of worship where not only many saints are buried, but above the high altar there is the very altar of wood where St. Peter would offer Holy Mass. Some believe it is also the table on which Jesus offered the Last Supper. It is a very holy and awesome place.

The Dedication of this Basilica—that is, the day of its formal consecration as a place of worship— is celebrated worldwide because of its importance to the Church. The dedication happened a few years after the Roman Emperor, Constantine, had conceded to Catholics the free exercise of their religion in 313AD, thus putting an end to two centuries of horrific martyrdom. Catholics could finally worship freely, gathered together in unity and in one place of worship. In thanksgiving and in praise to God, the basilica was originally named The Most Holy Savior. And for nearly 1,000 years, this is where the Pope resided (and not St. Peter’s as is the case today). 

All of these supernatural and historical realities attract hundreds of thousands of pilgrims—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—to encounter our Lord who dwells there.

The Purification of the Old Temple

What is interesting is that on this great feast, Our Lord proposes for us to consider the day in which he enters the Old Temple in Jerusalem and, in a zealous anger, flips over tables and drives out the worldly commerce. The connection with the feast day may seem clear enough: namely: that we are to be zealous for the worship places of God and treat them with reverence.

But there’s a problem.

When I hear this passage, I see an angry Jesus—an anger that seems out of character. Sure, it is justified, but it paints him as a reactionary, a socio-political revolutionary. Is this Jesus?

This week, I read part of the Second Volume of Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth book. And in this scholarly work, the Pope asks a very important question: namely: where in the Old Temple does this all take place? The answer is that it takes place in the Court of the Gentiles. This little detail is very important. The Court of the Gentiles was the outermost court where the non-Jewish people could worship. But given the Jewish people’s attitude towards the Gentiles, this outer court was not used very much and therefore was not considered to be important or holy—a kind of relic of the past that as a result could easily be turned into a place of commerce.

So, when Jesus comes in and drives the commerce from the Court of the Gentiles, not only is He reestablishing the overall Temple as a holy place, but He is also declaring that even this outermost part is holy. What's more: when he clears everything out, what he is doing is clearing a space for the Gentiles to worship and thus to become holy!

The zeal that Jesus has, therefore, is not only for the Temple, but also for His children.

The Dedication of the New Temple

Admittedly, this zeal seems too zealous for us. This is because our culture has separated loving from fighting. Our culture thinks the highest expression of love is tolerance and that love never has to flip over tables. But Jesus is showing us that when you love something, you sometimes have to fight for it. Here, Jesus is fighting for the Gentiles.

This is not a socio-political reactionary at work. This is a lover taking initiative and fighting for his beloved.

The irony is that this will ultimately become the charge that the Jewish people will bring against Jesus in order to crucify Him. Jesus knows this—which adds an even greater depth to what He is doing: not only does He know this will lead to His crucifixion, but by choosing to do this, Jesus is also consenting to the Cross. Flipping over tables, therefore, is not just of a zealous anger, but from a heart burning with a zealous love for us.

This is not out of character at all. It is this same zealous love that will give Him the patience to be silent in trial; it is this same zealous love that will give Him the strength to carry the Cross unto death. There, he will not be overthrowing tables, but the devil and that evil kingdom.

There, on the Cross, Jesus' side will be pierced and from it will flow blood and water, fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel and inaugurating the New Temple: a place of healing and of worship—which is exactly what happens after Jesus overthrows the tables in the Old Temple. Immediately after that moment, people come to Him and worship and are healed by Him. All obstacles have been cleared out and the New Temple is dedicated.

The Purification and Dedication of the Christian

What does this mean for us?

Paul says,
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

In other words, you have seen how zealous Jesus is about the Old Temple. How much more so is He zealous about you! He loves you and wants to overthrow the evil in you and establish in you a new reign of holiness in your life.

We often don’t think about this. I mean, there are some things that we say and do out in the world that we would never dare do here in church—because we know this place is holy. Jesus is saying to you: don’t do those profane things even “out there,” because YOU are a holy place. Don’t profane the church that you actually are!

And notice: when you receive the Eucharist today, Jesus will be entering into your temple. He comes to purify you, to clear out the sin in your life, to establish Himself as a place of worship within you, to remove what is profane and to make you holy.

And not only for your own sake, but so that you might become an attractive temple by which others enter into relationship with the Jesus that dwells in you, just as the many pilgrims come to St. John Lateran to encounter the God who dwells there.

People are not attracted to dilapidated and profaned basilicas. They are attracted by the beauty that comes with holiness. You are called to be holy, a holy temple, a dwelling of God—for your sake, for God’s sake, and for the sake of those whom God is calling to Himself through you. We must not be an obstacle like the commerce was in the Old Temple!

So, now we pray.

Jesus, purify me. Make me a temple of holiness; a temple that is purified of the profane; a temple which is dedicated to you alone. Help me to fight for my holiness with the same kind of zealous love that you have for me. Make me holy that I may be a worthy court where others may encounter you and worship you. Lord, purify me!

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