HOMILY WEEK 25 01 – Year I
Builders of a New Temple:
Optional Memorial of Saints Cosmos and Damian
(Ezra 1:1-6; Ps 126; Lk 8:16-18)
Do you see yourself as a builder?
We are about rebuilding the reign of God.
The first reading is all about the return of the exiles to their homeland through the lenient policies of the Persians. Though it was Zerubbabel who rebuilt the Temple, Ezra and Nehemiah were pioneers of the restoration. The real father of Judaism is Ezra with his three dominant conceptions: the chosen race, the Temple, and the Law. If his reforming measures seem severe and his isolationism narrow, it is because his zeal was great and the need to safeguard the infant community urgent. He is the pattern of all the scribes, the great and growing hero of Judaic tradition. Nehemiah restores and repopulates Jerusalem, making it possible and attractive to live there. He is caring, concerned, dedicated and prayerful, leaving a noble memory.
The Chronicler sees this restored community, gathered around the Temple and obedient to the Law, as a realization of the ideal God-governed society for which he has pleaded in the Books of Chronicles. The realization is not perfect, the future holds more. During this period, under Persian control, Israel re-constitutes itself as “the People of the Book” with scripture (the Torah) authoritative for personal and communal life. While the Temple and its clergy gain great power, the people themselves also develop new criteria for belonging and identity. There is harmony between Persian imperial policies and the will of God.
The return and rebuilding took place in stages. Not only were pre-exilic institutions restored, but religious practice conforming to the Torah was established in an attempt not to repeat the mistakes of the pre-exilic community. The returned exiles were a minority in a vast polytheistic and multi-cultural Persian Empire so they sought to protect their ethnic and religious identity by establishing rigorous religious boundaries.
The gospel has Jesus, who is the new Temple, commanding us to stand out, to make a difference, to boldly go ahead to do his work, to share in his mission to build a New Temple, the new People of God, led by Church membership. As great as the temple building project was, it pales in comparison to the task that Jesus has given to us –to participate in the building up of the reign of God here on earth.
For me, that happens best when someone breaks through years of anger and resentment and is able to move towards forgiveness of past hurts, to be set free. Velma is one such person who was able to communicate with her abuser “with love.” She not only forgave him the way he had hurt her so deeply, but also asked him to forgive her for how she had treated him for so many years, and gave him a hug. She even eventually was able to dance with him at a social gathering. That is building a new temple.
Two New Testament persons who truly listened to the word of the Lord, paid attention to it, and lived it fully are St. Cosmos and Damian, whom we honor today. According to the Living With Christ, legend has it that they were twins, both physicians who practiced without charging fees, and who suffered martyrdom during a period of persecution. Around this legend grew another – a gruesome story of their suffering as well as a history of miraculous cures. After Emperor Justinian I claimed to have been cured of illness through their intercession, he honored the city of Cyr, which had the relics of the saints, and encouraged devotion to them. In the 16th century, both an oratory and a basilica were built in their honor. Along with the apostle Luke, Cosmos and Damian are patron saints of physicians and surgeons.
So, as we celebrate the Eucharist today, our banquet within this new temple, let us pray for the faith to see ourselves as builders of the new Temple, the reign of God here on earth, as did Saints Cosmos and Damian.