Tag Archives: temple in Jerusalem

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

 

 

Mary temple

Mary, Presented in the Temple: Giotto

The Presentation of Mary, November 21,  is an ecumenical feast that originates, not in the bible, but in an ancient tradition of the church of Jerusalem. The tradition claims Mary was born near the temple in Jerusalem, where her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. He and his wife Ann were old and childless until they were blessed with a daughter whom they presented in the temple as a little child. The tradition is honored by Christian churches of the east and west.

The present church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, next to the ancient temple site, is where the tradition says Mary was born. Besides Jerusalem, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris also claim to be where she was born.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem tradition may have some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest.  Could Mary’s family also be connected to the temple?

Luke links Mary a number of times to the temple.. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Luke also says Mary and Joseph brought Jesus as a child to the temple to celebrate the feasts. Mary’s Son calls the temple familiarly “my Father’s house.”

According to the gospel of James Mary was presented in the temple as a little girl and it gives the impression she lived there until her arranged marriage to Joseph. But the four gospels seem to place Mary far from the temple most of her life, in Nazareth. That’s where the angel speaks to her.    

We might say that for Mary the temple signifies God’s presence, where prophets speak and wisdom can be found. Like Jesus she loved that holy place, but like him she believed the temple of God can be found everywhere, (cf. John 4, 22-26), in Nazareth, Bethlehem, even on Calvary. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul would say later to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3, 16) 

St. Paul of the Cross,  founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to this mystery and dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy to the Presentation of Mary. He saw his retreats as places where his religious, like Mary, would find themselves in God’s presence, where they could pray, where they would meet prophets and teachers, where they would gain wisdom. 

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 Last Days

When Jesus came up to Jerusalem before his death, he was not a hapless Galillean peasant who would be cut down by a powerful Jewish-Roman elite. He was not simply a healer who was killed because he stirred up crowds and might also stir up revolution in the sensitive land of his day.

Those who believed in him saw him as a great teacher, a  “Rabbi” well aware of his times and his tradition. Matthew’s gospel emphasizes his role as teacher. But he was more than that, as Peter testifies in the 9th chapter of Matthew. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In the chapters of the synoptic gospels  preceding his passion, Jesus Christ speaks about the world and its future, the “end times.”  In his new book,” Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2,” Pope Benedict calls this part of the gospel the most difficult part to explain.

Jesus sees the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and what follows it. That’s important as he goes to his death.

He sees himself as the new temple. In a new age, when the gentiles are called to believe in him, the old temple will be abandoned. Its sacrifices for sins now take place through the blood of the Lamb. His blood is shed for us and we are united to God through him.

So much of what Jesus does at the Last Supper begins that replacement of the temple and its sacrifices.

The temple and everything about it was dear to him. That’s obvious from what he says about it and his devotion to its worship. Like a mother hen he would have sheltered the Holy City under his wings, but it turned away, as it turned away from Jeremiah and the other prophets.

There are signs up on the buses from Union City to New York City that Judgment Day is  coming on May 21st. That’s the word from Harold Camping on Family Radio, who has it all figured out.

The pope’s summary of the end times in his book is so much more nuanced than that of the biblical  fundamentalists. He keeps the future mysterious, and repeats Jesus’ message to “stay awake” each day.