From The Rev. Clarence, 23 Pentecost, 2019

Posted on ; Filed under News

The destruction of the Jewish Temple, Francesco Hayez

Thoughts on Isaiah 65. 17-25 the new Jerusalem, and Luke 21.5f: the destruction of the Temple

While driving to the parish on Thursday morning for a meeting, I happened at an electric traffic signal to come along side an SUV which sported a sticker that read: “Do not believe everything that you think.” And I chuckled aloud and wondered, why could I have not thought of that catchy phrase and had it copyrighted.  And as I drove on Rte. 16, approaching Mass. Ave., the further thought occurred to me, that is exactly what Jesus was attempting to get across to those who are spoken of in today’s gospel lesson simply as an anonymous “some,”  and that about which this “some” were speaking was the Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus found himself, as he was making his way to his crucifixion.  I would ask us to think about this situation in three parts:


I. Who are these “some,” who were talking?

II. What was so distressing to Jesus about their conversation that he should launch into a diatribe about a change that was coming?

III. My encounter on a bus which gave affirmation to the Prophet Isaiah’ vision of the New Jerusalem, the very thing that Jesus desired.


I. Who are these “some,” who were talking?

I do not have to believe that we need to search far in order to assume that this anonymous “some” were probably those same groups who had questioned Jesus throughout his ministry.  His greatest distracters were Pharisees and Sadducees, the ruling political class and the priests of the Temple, the ruling religious class. Biblical Israel was no less a classed society than are we in the United States of America.  


To be sure, the Pharisees and the Sadducees extolled biblical Israel’s oneness because of their belief in Yahweh, in the one God, the “I am that I am,” and not a golden calf or some other tangible object, which had been formed of a human-made cast. The Temple in Jerusalem is where the Intelligentia held forth.  It is in the Temple and for its upkeep that, in addition to the tithe of the wealthy, turtle doves and objects of lesser value from the poor and the lower class were sold within the temple’s precinct, something which, as you recall, also upset Jesus greatly.  The temple was the precinct of the upper class. These were the “some” who drove Jesus to distraction.

II. What was so distressing to Jesus about their conversation that Jesus should launch into the equivalent of a doomsday diatribe?

On the surface, nothing about their praise of the beauty of the Temple should have upset Jesus.  Religious Hebrews were expected to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  The Temple was holy, as it was dedicated to God.  

None of us had the privilege of seeing the Temple that stood in Jesus’ day.  However, this much we know: it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.  That is to say, it was architecturally pleasing to the eye.  Even for those among us who may never have travelled to Europe, to Rome and the Sistine Chapel, or to Vienna to the gilded Baroque Churches on the Ring Strasse, or to London to St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, we have visited in the United States the beautiful, stunning, religious edifices that have been erected to the honor and glory of God: St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue on the East Side, or St. Bartholomew in Midtown, or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, just to name a few within our own religious family.  All to the glory of God!  So, why should Jesus become upset? Why would he not want God to be glorified?


To answer that question requires only a brief reminder of the Song of Mary, or the Magnificat, and that one, often overlooked line: “He (God) has put down the mighty from their seat.” Religion, as it would appear, at least on the surface, was reserved for the rich.  It was that, and still for us Christians today, which disturbed Jesus because the poor were not truly welcomed to share in the beauty, for they could not afford a wedding garment, i.e. their attire gave them away as being not worthy of remaining in the temple precincts, except to pay their dues.  That symbol of privilege had to be dismantled, and not simply dismantled, but destroyed!


III. My encounter with the change that Jesus sought, which is none other than that which the Prophet Isaiah describes in today’s lesson.


On Friday evening, as I took the 71 bus from my house in Watertown into Harvard, I witnessed Isaiah’s Temple in its living miniature form.  I stood, not because there were no seats, but because I was to be sitting for ca. 3 hours behind a desk.  A woman got onto the bus, laden with a pizza box, her own heavy shoulder bag, and a paper CVS bag.  As she sat down the CVS bag ripped and its contents fell onto the floor.  A woman sitting opposite her bent over from her seat and retrieved several of the items and returned them to the woman.  Several seats further back, just up from where I was standing at the side door, and sitting to the side of woman #1, a third woman reached into her own bag, pulled out a plastic bag and gave it to the first woman. “Thanks” and “you’re welcome” were exchanged.  And then a conversation developed between woman #1 and woman #3.  When the three women began to alight from the bus at Harvard, thanks were again exchanged, and I thought, Butler, that was why the Prophet Isaiah was so giddy, so effusive of praise of God’s new Jerusalem and what Jesus wanted the Pharisees and Sadducees to understand.  God’s glory was magnified in people.


On Friday evening, God was on that bus.  God was in that place, in a temple not made by hands. Three quite different woman, each unknown to the other and to the rest of us, demonstrated the Good News of Christ, namely God the Creator seeks to build community, to reunite us all to God, but using human actions to bring it about.  Woman #1 was African American.  Woman #2, judging from her headdress, was Muslim.  Woman #3, from her appearance and accented English, was Asian.


Serious commitment, not to talking, but to doing on behalf of the kingdom, is what God has called us to be about. These are the kind of laborers God is seeking, the ones who are living and breathing the kingdom values of love and justice each day of their lives. I do not think that God is too terribly interested in our rhetoric or even, dare I say, in our theology, or our buildings, however much we need them.


The sticker on the window of the SUV read: ‘Do not believe everything that you think.’  That was precisely the message which Jesus imparted to those “some” who were speaking, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The glory of and to God was not to be found or constrained in and by a building, however magnificent the Temple may be architecturally.


Jesus tells the Pharisees and Sadducees in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t care about their building.  He knows that is not where the truth lies.  Although the Pharisees and Sadducees would have denied it vehemently, the Temple had become the Golden Calf. Jesus is interested in moving the entire matter out of the realm of admiration of stones.  He is interested in moving the matter from their words, to their very lives.  And so it is with us, as well. The question remains as stark, unadorned, and penetrating today, as it did then: What, indeed, are the true stones that build the temple of God?