Tag Archives: Court of the Gentiles

Friday, 3rd Week of Advent

Prophets like Isaiah promised that all nations would come to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. And so the temple in Jerusalem provided a Court of the Gentiles, and extensive place surrounding the Holy of Holies for foreigners whom God would call when the time had come.

“Them I will bring to my holy mountain

and make joyful in my house of prayer;

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices

will be acceptable on my altar,

For my house shall be called

a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56)

Jesus’ symbolic act of cleansing the temple was a sign that that time had come. The Gentiles were called, and they were called to him. In the gospel today, Jesus speaks from the temple, most likely from the Court of the Gentiles. He’s the One whom John the Baptist has pointed out and his mission will be confirmed by his Father who will glorify him in his Kingdom.

One of Pope Benedict’s recent hopes is that all of our Catholic holy places have a “Court of the Gentiles” where we can speak to  the world around us in dialogue and respect.

Readings here.

Jesus in the Temple

Where did Jesus teach and pray and live when he was in Jerusalem? That’s hard to figure out today because the city was thoroughly destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and since then earthquakes, wars, political and religious forces have hammered away at the old city.

Jerusalem destroyed: 70 AD

Archeologists try their best to reconstruct ancient Jerusalem and they’ve produced a wonderful model of the city from about the time of Jesus, which can be seen today at the city’s Israel Museum.  As the model indicates, the Second Temple built by Herod the Great dominated the city then. Jesus must have taught and prayed in this splendid place–still being built during his lifetime– as he came to celebrate the Jewish feasts.

His activity here triggered his condemnation to death.

Can we say more precisely where he taught and when he began teaching there? Luke’s gospel offers the interesting story that his parents, after missing him on one of their usual visits to the Holy City,  “found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2,46) This probably took place in the Court of the Gentiles, the extensive space that surrounded the temple itself, which we can see in the model. We can surmise that, as observant Jews, his family brought him to Jerusalem for the major feasts.

The name, Court of the Gentiles, indicates an area open to all, even though the temple building itself was open only to the Jews. In the Court of the Gentiles,  young Jewish children like Jesus and adults looking for a greater understanding of their faith were able to listen and ask questions of the Jewish teachers. At the same time, even those who did not share the Jewish faith were welcome here,  namely,  non-Jews, gentiles, who could speak to Jewish teachers, inquire about the Jewish faith and even pray to the unknown God.

The Court of the Gentiles was an important part of the temple area; it proclaimed Jewish openness to the world.  The psalms and the prophets spoke of the God of all nations and looked to the day when all peoples would be counted among the children of Abraham:

“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house

will be established as the highest mountain

and raised above the hills.

All nations shall stream toward it;

many peoples will come and say:

‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may instruct us in his ways

and we may walk in his paths.” Isaiah 2,1-5

The Court of the Gentiles was the place where Jesus proclaimed a new age that would fulfill these promises.  As he grew “in wisdom and age and grace” Jesus continued to go to the temple with his family from Galilee to celebrate the Jewish feasts, still “listening to the teachers and asking them questions.”

But after his baptism by John, Jesus’ visits to the temple changed. During the feasts he made extraordinary claims about himself and his mission, as John’s Gospel records.  His claims, along with healings he worked in Jerusalem– his cures of  the man born blind and of the paralyzed man, above all his raising of Lazarus from the dead– alarmed the temple authorities.

The gospels all record the disturbing incident that took place in the temple during the final stages of his ministry. According to Mark’s gospel: “He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold  and those who bought, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he taught and said to them, “Is it not written, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11,15-17, Matthew 21,1017; Luke 19, 45-46; John 2,13-17)

Not only was the Court of the Gentiles a place for teaching and prayer, it was also a place for exchanging money, getting advice from priests about where and how to pray and make your offerings,  buying food and animals for sacrifice. In a prophetic gesture, Jesus upset this traditional apparatus and called for renewing the temple so that it could fulfill its destiny as “a house of prayer for all the nations.”

The Gentiles would no longer be excluded from experiencing the Divine Presence;  Jesus signified he came to break down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and reconcile both to God through his death. He himself would be the new temple and the sacrifice of reconciliation for all peoples.

No wonder that a major accusation made against him later at his trial before the Jewish leaders was based on what witnesses claimed were his threats to destroy the temple. “We heard him say ‘I will destroy this temple made from human hands and I will build another not made by human hands.” (Mark 14,58)

Some picture Jesus as a hapless Galilean peasant caught in a government net to catch and destroy potential revolutionaries, like Barabbas. Jesus went to his death for more reasons than that. His activity in the temple is an important part of his life and mission, and it led to his death.

Jesus in Jerusalem

John’s gospel has Jesus coming to Jerusalem three times, while the synoptics present him on one journey to the Holy City. Beginning with the 4th week of lent, John’s accounts of Jesus activity in the city are read in church in the weeks before Easter; they feature his extensive dialogue with “the Jews,” in which he claims to be God’s Son. That claim is strongly rejected and leads to his death.

Most of these dialogues take place in the Jerusalem temple. Where in the temple? It seems in the Court of the Gentiles, which according to scholarly reconstructions was the largest area in the imposing structure Herod the Great built.

Besides his claim to be God’s Son, Jesus also claims to be sent to realize the prophecies that all nations are to come to this place where an area has already been assigned to them. Now, however, Jesus claims he is the new temple. All peoples will come to him.

I told the people at Mass this morning, about 60 were there, to look at the empty space in their beautiful church. It was there for people to fill and they have a mission to call them. Many in this neighborhood once were here; they need to be invited to come again. Others were never here; they need to be called too.

I mentioned the pope’s recent suggestion that every church have a “court of the gentiles” a place that welcomes the world. That may be a physical space or, more likely, a symbolic space. But more importantly, our churches should welcome outsiders. They belong here.

The Courtyard of the Gentiles

Last week Pope Benedict addressed people attending the opening of the Courtyard of the Gentiles before the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. It’s a space he hopes will be created throughout the world before our important Christian buildings to meet the world which Jesus invites into his temple. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Benedict sees the incident of Jesus cleansing the temple as a symbolic preparation for the entrance of the Gentiles to this holy place. “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his truth and we may walk in his ways.” Isaiah 2, 2-5  Here are the pope’s words:

“I am grateful to the Pontifical Council for having taken up and extended my invitation to open a number of “Courts of the Gentiles” within the Church. This image refers to the vast open space near the Temple of Jerusalem where all those who did not share the faith of Israel could approach the Temple and ask questions about religion. There they could meet the scribes, speak of faith and even pray to the unknown God. The Court was then an area of separation, since Gentiles did not have the right to enter the consecrated area, yet Jesus Christ came to “break down the dividing wall” between Jews and Gentiles, and to “reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility in himself”. In the words of Saint Paul, “He came and proclaimed peace…” (cf. Eph 2:14-17).

At the heart of the “City of Light”, in front of the magnificent masterwork of French religious culture which is Notre Dame, a great court has been created in order to give fresh impetus to respectful and friendly encounter between people of differing convictions. You young people, believers and non-believers alike, have chosen to come together this evening, as you do in your daily lives, in order to meet one another and to discuss the great questions of human existence. Nowadays many people acknowledge that they are not part of any religion, yet they long for a new world, a world that is freer, more just and united, more peaceful and happy. In speaking to you tonight, I think of all the things you have to say to each other. Those of you who are non-believers challenge believers in a particular way to live in a way consistent with the faith they profess and by your rejection of any distortion of religion which would make it unworthy of man. Those of you who are believers long to tell your friends that the treasure dwelling within you is meant to be shared, it raises questions, it calls for reflection. The question of God is not a menace to society, it does not threaten a truly human life! The question of God must not be absent from the other great questions of our time.

for full text.

Be interesting to have a Court of the Gentiles before all our Christian institutions.