Temples of the Holy Spirit


Temples of the Holy Spirit

(Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 18; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-25; John 2:13-25)


Bob, a young priest who was not that self-aware was walking outside with a companion during a retreat. Hector, another priest whom he knew was walking toward him with someone else. Hector looked up, saw Bob, and said sincerely, “Hello, Bob, it’s good to see your face again.” Without thinking, Bob immediately replied, “Sure, if you don’t have anything better to look at.” Hector responded, with a hurt look on his face, “I do, every time I look in a mirror” and kept on going. Bob immediately felt ashamed and angry, like crawling under the pavement. Why did he say that? Where did that come from? That incident spoiled his whole retreat. Finally, after some weeks of pondering the incident, he realized that he struggled with low self-worth and needed to work on that, which he did.

Today’s readings invite us to celebrate our dignity as temples of God; believe it and live it.

The first reading provides a background to this message. Mt. Sinai is actually in Egypt. St. Catherine’s monastery is located at the base of the mountain. Present day tourists and pilgrims lodge there, then leave at 2 am to arrive on top of the mountain by sunrise, a rather exhilarating experience. They either walk up in the dark with flashlights or ride up on camels to where the last 750 steps begin. Just to be on the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments or dabar (“words” in Hebrew) is very moving.

Those Ten Commandments make up what is known as the Mosaic covenant. As the Book of Deuteronomy puts it in chapter 4, these statutes and ordinances, if observed diligently, would confer on the people of God wisdom, a spirit of discernment, a sense of justice, and above all, an intimate nearness to God that would both impress and attract other nations to the one God of Israel. It is interesting that the first three commandments refer to our relationship with God, while the remaining seven refer to our relationship with other people. In that sense, they are somewhat similar to the Great Commandment that Jesus gave us, lacking only the idea of also loving ourselves that Jesus included.

In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus states that he came not to abolish, but to fulfil both the law and the prophets. He adds that whoever breaks them will be least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be great in the kingdom of heaven.

The perennial problem for God in the Old Testament, and for Jesus in the New, is that the Chosen people consistently failed to keep the covenant. They always fell for the temptations to worship the false gods of possessions and pleasure; prestige and fame; power and control – false gods that bedevil humanity to this day. As Jesus put it, the scribes and Pharisees were the teachers – they occupied the chair of Moses, so his disciples were to do what they taught, but not what they did, because of their hypocrisy. They were not keeping the Law of Moses themselves.

Actually, at one point during the time of the prophet Ezekiel, the corruption in the sacrificial temple worship, and the abuse of the religious system led the shekinah, or “glory” of God to rise up from the temple and leave Jerusalem towards that East.

That brings us to today’s gospel in which Jesus cleanses the temple. One of the roles of the messiah when he would come would be precisely to restore the temple. When Jesus “went up to Jerusalem,” he found all the commerce that is described in the gospel and felt driven to cleanse/restore the temple.

What upset Jesus most was the fact that the commerce was taking place in the Court of the Gentiles, thus excluding them from worship, or at least making it almost impossible for them to pray. On top of that, the pilgrims were required to buy their sacrifices not from merchants in town at a cheaper price, but from the officials in the temple, to meet the purity requirements. Essentially, the poor were the victims of religious extortion. That injustice in the very heart of the temple worship of God is what upset Jesus the most and led him to act with righteous anger that addressed this injustice.

Significantly, the Passover of the Jews was near when Jesus went into the temple. Scholars say that it is this incident more than any other that most probably led to Jesus’ crucifixion, when he became the new Paschal Lamb at the new Passover. He dared to mess with the corrupt religious system of the Jews. Yet he was only fulfilling the role of the messiah to restore the temple. That he would do especially by his death and resurrection not only as the Messiah, but as the new temple of God, which is why he could say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course, the religious leaders did not understand, and scoffed at him in their ignorance and lack of faith.

St Paul, in the second reading to the Corinthians, elaborates on this greatest of sins, hypocrisy and unbelief. The Israelites were almost never on top – they were always an oppressed people and were longing for a warrior messiah who finally be sent by God to rescue them, to vindicate them, to liberate them from their oppressors, and give them dignity, power, prestige, fame and riches like the other nations. How could they not but be shocked when what they got instead was a “crucified loser,” a “suffering messiah”? That was the last thing they wanted or expected.

That was why Paul could write that Christ crucified was a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles. However, to those who believe and are called, he is the power and wisdom of God. Interesting, it is now faith in Jesus that delivers what the law was supposed to, but never could.

The implications of all this for us are enormous. By our faith in Jesus, our baptism into his Body the Church, and our lives of love as his disciples, including even redemptive suffering, we are transformed into temples of God, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be faithful where the Chosen people were not; to practice a genuine religion of living integrity, where they always sought selfish ends. We are to be the mind, heart, eyes, hands and feet of the messiah who is now Risen Lord and living in us. That is true dignity; true self-worth. That is what we can celebrate, and for which we should be eternally grateful.

The Eucharist that we celebrate now commissions us to go out and to spread the good news as temples of God. One person who did this well was Ken, an accountant. He listened to a particularly interesting homily on how Jesus, as the new Moses, taught the scribes and Pharisees, who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, what Moses learned on the mountain when receiving the second set of commandments after he broke the first – that God was non-violent, merciful, compassionate and forgiving to the thousandth generation. Ken was inspired to go out and share that message with his co-workers. His wife was so impressed by his actions that she phoned the pastor to let him know what had transpired. Ken was truly being a temple of God, a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

So, remember, we are the temple of God, the dwelling place of the shekinah, the glory of God, the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is to believe it, to live it and to celebrate dignity that is ours.


Updated: March 2, 2024 — 9:38 pm

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