Nov 9, 2020: Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome (ABC)

Introduction

The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. It was built by Constantine on Monte Celio, formerly property of the patrician Laterani family (hence the Basilica’s designation “Lateran”). The adjacent palace served as the Pope’s official residence for about a thousand years, until the 15th century. Although the Pope now lives in the Vatican, he still presides at St. John Lateran each year on Holy Thursday for the Eucharist and the Washing of the Feet.

This basilica is a symbol of the unity of all Christian communities with Rome. Referred to as “the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world” (omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput), it was the first basilica to be built after Emperor Constantine’s edict of Milan, in 313 AD, which granted Christians legal recognition and freedom to practice their religion. For this reason, we celebrate this holiday worldwide. When November 9 falls on a Sunday, the feast supersedes the celebration of the Sunday in Ordinary Time.

1st Reading – Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12

The angel brought me
back to the entrance of the temple,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the southern side.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Ezekiel was a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. He offered the exiles hope with his vision of a restored Israel. Today’s first reading is part of that vision, specifically a vision of the temple.

At the time Ezekiel is prophesying, the temple had been destroyed.

The angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, 

Ezekiel is brought to the door of the temple, and from there he is able to observe a stream of water flowing from the threshold of the temple.

for the facade of the temple was toward the east;

Temples were constructed in such a way as to face the east. Because the east is the horizon of the dawn, ancient tradition held that it was the direction from which salvation comes.

the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple, south of the altar. He led me outside by the north gate, and around to the outer gate facing the east, where I saw water trickling from the southern side.

More important than the course the water takes is the meaning of its source and the effects it achieves.

He said to me, “This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt waters, 

The Arabah (‘ărābâ) is a desert plain that stretches south into the Rift Valley, where it becomes the southern depression of the Dead Sea. It is into this sea that the waters flow.

The Dead Sea is thirteen hundred feet below sea level, the lowest point on the surface of the earth. Seven million tons of water flow into it daily. Because it has no outlet, the constant evaporation of water results in a high concentration of salt, chlorides, and bromides.

which it makes fresh.

Ezekiel’s vision is of a restored temple from which life-giving waters flow out to the Dead Sea, making the water fresh.

Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. 

As the vision continues, the water from the temple miraculously purifies the stagnant waters of the Dead Sea and gives life to all.

Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. 

This image recalls the primordial river that flowed out of Eden: It too divided into four branches and watered all the surrounding land, making it fertile (Genesis 2:10-14).

What was once a place of death is now a place of burgeoning life and productivity.

Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

The water from the temple has yet even greater effects. Not only is the water itself transformative, causing plants to bear fruit as food, but the leaves of the trees that produce the fruit possess curative powers.

The saving power of God goes out from the temple in a series of concentric circles: first the water from the sanctuary itself, then whatever the water touches, and finally the nourishing fruits and medicinal leaves produced by that which the water touched. The power of the presence of God radiates throughout creation.

Ezekiel is teaching the exiles that God will be faithful to God’s covenant promises; the exiles will return to the holy land. God will once again dwell in his temple. The fact that God dwells among the people will be life-giving for all.

For the Jewish people, the temple was God’s dwelling place. For us, the Church, the body of Christ, is the place where God dwells. Wherever God dwells, there is abundant life.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17

Brothers and sisters:
You are God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me,
like a wise master builder I laid a foundation,
and another is building upon it.
But each one must be careful how he builds upon it,
for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there,
namely, Jesus Christ.

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 our second reading, Saint Paul teaches the Corinthians that they are the new temple, the body of Christ, the place where God dwells.

Brothers and sisters: You are God’s building. 

Paul is using one of his favorite metaphors for the Church: God’s building, the temple in which God dwells.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a
foundation, and another is building upon it.

This building, the church, is not a finished product; it is under construction.

Speaking without pride but from the humble acknowledgment of God’s goodness, Paul declares that by the grace of God he was chosen to be the wise architect (sophós architéktōn) of the temple.

But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.

Paul boldly claims that through his preaching of the gospel, he laid the foundation, and the foundation is Christ.

No matter what is built, there will always only be one foundation. The entire structure is dependent upon it.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Paul declares that the Corinthians are God’s building, God’s temple, because they are the place where God dwells.

If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

Just as the presence of God made the Temple in Jerusalem holy, so it is the presence of the Spirit of God that makes this new temple holy, and the Spirit dwells in all the members.

Those who defiled the Temple in Jerusalem were liable to death. Outside the inner court of the Temple, a sign was posted that excluded Gentiles from entering and warned of severe consequences for violation of this prohibition. Why such a harsh penalty? Because the Temple of God is holy, and only those people and things that have been set aside as holy can enter it.

With this regulation in mind, Paul plays with the meaning of the Greek word phtheírō, which can be translated both “to corrupt” and “to destroy.” Those who corrupt or defile God’s temple will be destroyed. It is up to the Corinthians to determine whether the temple of God, which they are, will continue to be holy or whether it might be defiled.

On the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, we celebrate God’s dwelling place. The Lateran Basilica is the symbol of that worldwide dwelling place. However, Christ dwells not in brick and mortar, but in those who have been baptized into his body, the church. Christ dwells in us.

Gospel – John 2:13-22

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money-changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money-changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.

The gospel reading for today’s feast is the well-known Cleansing of the Temple. Interestingly, John places this event at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, rather than at the end. In all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) the cleansing of the temple occurs at the end of Jesus’ public ministry as he enters Jerusalem just before his passion and death (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-46). John alone places this scene at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, after his first miracle (turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana). It is unclear whether these are separate occurrences or two accounts of the same event.

Regardless, today’s reading revolves around the theme of the temple. Jesus’ actions there are acted-out prophecy, and his play on words constitutes prophetic forth-telling.

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Passover was the most important of the Jewish feasts. According to the Law of Moses, every male Israelite over the age of twelve had to “appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16) which resulted in the custom of making a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.

In his gospel, John often supplies the backdrop of a Jewish feast as he described Jesus’ public ministry. His purpose is to teach that the old way of being in right relationship with God — through obedience to the law and observance of Jewish feasts — has been replaced. Jesus is initiating a new spiritual order.

He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there.

Roman coins, the currency of the day, were stamped with the head of Caesar (who considered himself a deity) and sometimes with the images of other pagan gods. As such, they were unfit for paying the temple tax, and so money-changing became indispensable.

In addition, most pilgrims were not able to bring animals along for sacrifice. This lead to a second necessary service: the selling of animals in the temple precincts.

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, 

The cords were likely those used by the merchants to lead the animals into the temple area. Jesus probably used the whip to drive out the animals — it is unlikely that he used it on the merchants themselves.

As a faithful Jew, Jesus would have witnessed this spectacle many times throughout his life. Why did he wait until now to take action? This is the first Passover after Jesus’ baptism. He is taking upon himself the public character of a prophet. It is possible that the whip played a part in this aspect of the scene, serving as a symbol of authority rather than an instrument for inflicting damage.

Note that Jesus did not drive anyone into the temple area — he only drove out those who profaned it. Notice also that he doesn’t deprive anyone of their possessions, he simply causes them to relocate.

with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

Why is Jesus so irate? He accused the merchants of making the Temple a marketplace. However, a part of it really was a marketplace. Conducted appropriately, the transactions were legitimate and conducted in an appropriate area. They were certainly essential supports of the temple service.

One interpretation is that, like any trading practice, this market was susceptible to potential abuses. Some commentators suggest that the trading booths were brought into the temple area from outside so that the temple could charge them rent for being there, and fees for searching the animals sold in order to certify that they were without blemish (and therefore fit for sacrificial use). Given the number of pilgrims that flooded the city each year, this could have been a considerable source of revenue.

His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

A reference to Psalm 69:9-10, a lament, in which the psalmist states that zeal for the house of God makes him vulnerable to scorn and abuse from others. This, combined with Zechariah 14:21, which states that at the end-time there would be no need for merchants in the house of the Lord, provides a second explanation for Jesus’ behavior: in his new public ministry as a prophet, he is proclaiming that the end-time has arrived.

It is, in fact, a double claim. First, by driving out the merchants, he is announcing that the time of fulfillment has come, and as such, merchants are no longer needed or welcome at the house of the Lord. Second, he identifies God as his Father. Aside from being an astounding claim in itself, this affirms his authority in the matter.

It is possible that both interpretations are correct: the merchants are corrupt and Jesus is also announcing that the messianic age has arrived.

At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

The Jews referred to here are most likely the temple authorities, who demand that Jesus justify his actions.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

Jesus employs a clever use of language in his answer. In this passage, two words for “temple”: hierón appears when the entire temple area is intended (previously, in verses 14-15); Jesus uses naós here, when he is referring to his body. The Jewish authorities mistakenly use naós in a general sense, though in Jesus’ words, it is used here very specifically.

Since Jesus is portrayed as using naós, the word for temple proper or sanctuary, in referring to his body, he is actually predicting his death and resurrection. This corresponds to the allusion to Zechariah, because by replacing the temple sacrifice with his own suffering and death, there is no longer a need for sacrificial animals at the temple.

Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

The encounter ends with a statement about the disciples recalling this episode and the words Jesus spoke. It would require their experience of the risen Lord for them to be able to gain insight into what had occurred.

The temple, the building that had been understood to be one of the signs of God’s covenant promises to God’s people, has been replaced by the body of Christ.

We read this passage on the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica because this basilica acts as a symbol of the worldwide body of Christ, the Church. Just as the Jews believed that Yahweh dwelt in their temple, so do we believe that the risen Christ dwells in his body, the Church.

Connections and Themes

The Temple.  The Temple was important because it was believed to be the place on earth where God dwelt in the midst of the people. It was God’s presence, not the worship performed by human beings, that made this a sacred site.

We are the Temple of God.  As important as the temple building may be, it is only a building. Paul insists that we are the temple of God; we are the manifestation of God in the world today. The Spirit of God dwells in us, making the believing community the living temple of God. This is an incredible privilege as well as an exacting challenge. If we do not obscure this reality, the glory of God will shine out from us. The community, not the building, will be the place where prayer and sacrifice are offered to God. It will be within the community that others will experience God’s saving presence. They will come to the community to be sanctified, to be made holy.

A Den of Thieves or Life-Giving Water?  Today’s readings provide us with two pictures of the temple of God, two characterizations of the community of believers. The picture in the gospel is a sobering one. The Temple has become a marketplace; the community has become so preoccupied with the business of the world that it has forgotten its identity. In a fury, Jesus upsets the worldly order that had been established and drives it out of the house of God. The vision from Ezekiel offers a very different picture. There we see water from the temple transforming everything in its path. As water flowed from the temple in Ezekiel’s vision, so grace flows from the temple that is the People of God.

Which image more closely characterizes the community of which we are a part? Are we able to refresh what was once brackish? Can we transform the wilderness into a place teeming with life? Can we make all things productive and fruitful? Can we heal what has been threatened with death? Is the community truly the presence of God in the world today? Or is it simply a site where ritual is performed but the concerns of God take second place to the affairs of the world? Will the zeal of Jesus be unleashed upon us? Do we need to be overturned in order to be reformed? As we celebrate the dedication of this sacred place, we are reminded that we are the temple of God, that we have been dedicated, that the Spirit of God has made us a living temple.

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