It’s important to remember that Jesus, as well as being a humble native of Nazareth, was also was a regular worshipper in the temple at Jerusalem and was nourished by the great ideas and vision that radiated from this holy place.
Indeed, the Second Temple was admired throughout the world of his time. Whatever the Jews thought of Herod the Great, the unpredictable ruler of Judea, most would be proud of the magnificent temple he built. It was one of the world’s wonders.
Yet, when some spoke to Jesus about its beauty, how adorned it was with gifts, he replied “As for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21,6)
The temple was not just a cause for national pride for the Jews; it nourished their spirituality. God, who was honored here, was no household god with limited power, or a national god concerned with one people. The Divine Presence honored here was the Lord of heaven and earth, the God of the nations.
That belief was expressed in the psalms that Jesus and his disciples would have prayed. Two psalms we pray in the Liturgy of Hours Wednesday and Thursday of this week (week 1) are prayers from the temple and its worship:
All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.
For the LORD, the Most High, inspires awe, the great king overall the earth,
Who made people subject to us, brought nations under our feet,
Who chose a land for our heritage, the glory of Jacob, the beloved.
God mounts the throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.
God is king over all the earth; sing hymns of praise.
God rules over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples assemble with the people of the God of Abraham. For the rulers of the earth belong to God, who is enthroned on high.
Great is the LORD and highly praised in the city of our God:
The holy mountain, fairest of heights,
the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, the heights of Zaphon,
the city of the great king.
God is its citadel, renowned as a stronghold.
See! The kings assembled, together they invaded.
When they looked they were astounded; terrified, they were put to flight!
Trembling seized them there, anguish, like a woman’s labor,
As when the east wind wrecks the ships of Tarshish!
What we had heard we now see in the city of the LORD of hosts,
In the city of our God, founded to last forever.
O God, within your temple we ponder your steadfast love.
Like your name, O God, your praise reaches the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is fully victorious.
Mount Zion is glad!
The cities of Judah rejoice because of your saving deeds!
Go about Zion, walk all around it,
note the number of its towers.
Consider the ramparts, examine its citadels,
that you may tell future generations:
“Yes, so mighty is God, our God who leads us always!”
The temple proclaimed God who rules over creation and the nations, but as Jesus reminded his disciples a place can pass away but the God proclaimed there does not pass away. In fact, Jesus spoke of himself as the new temple, who replaces this building and who cannot be destroyed,
Isaiah offered a similar message, which we also read today (Thursday morning, week 1)
“Thus says the LORD: The heavens are my throne, the earth is my footstool. What kind of house can you build for me; what is to be my resting place?
My hand made all these things when all of them came to be, says the LORD. This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66,1-2)
After the destruction of Jerusalem, Jews who had been banished from the city by the Romans were allowed at set times to stand on the Mount of Olives and mourn for the temple and their great city. Christians also would go there to remember that cherished institutions and human endeavors can pass away, but Jesus Christ does not pass away.
I was with the people in the picture above, who looked out from the Mount of Olives to the temple mount and Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Good place to put things in perspective these days.