Thought for the week - 5 November 2023
Nothing that we build really lasts of course, eventually it will fall down, or need repair, or become obsolete – even things we buy become useless as we know every time we move house and throw away another binbag full of tech equipment, wires and boxes that are no longer of any value or use. Any casual glance at a city, town or village reveals a multiplicity of architectural styles and vintages, and underneath all that there are layers and layers of what came before us, built onto and over until we have things the way that we want them at this time.
Some buildings and some things we may hope to have a little more longevity than others – the image of St Paul’s in the Blitz was and is poignant, but when Wren unveiled it, Parliament almost demanded it be demolished and replaced with a less Italianate building, preferably sturdy Gothic. Our own church was never completed according to the original designs, which we may be glad about now because the roof as it stands cost quite enough to repair. But not St Stephen’s on the Cliffs nor even St Paul’s Cathedral could hold a candle to the sheer enormity and overwhelming nature of the Temple in Jerusalem – not only was it a truly monumental structure, it was also the place where God dwelt among His people, the hoped for final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the centre of the Promised Land.
In terms of space, it took up one-sixth of the whole of Jerusalem. The Courtyard of the Temple was the size of 6 football pitches. The south-east corner of the Temple platform was 200 feet above the floor of the Kidron Valley beside it. It was an incredible sight that dominated the city and the skyline. So, it’s no wonder that in todays Gospel we find the Disciples marvelling at this sight.
But the response that Jesus gives them is absolutely mind-blowing: “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” He makes a profound comment that cuts to the very heart of the national identity of the Jewish nation; the nation that found its identity in its relationship with Jehovah God, the nation that symbolized its place as the Chosen Race in this magnificent Temple. Jesus’ words are not a comment on the demise of a building. They are words that cut to the very heart of how the nation of Israel should understand itself. The power and the privilege will crumble and be overthrown. I can imagine now, standing with Jesus outside the gates of a great cathedral, symbolic of every denomination and church building in the world and saying ‘all of this will be demolished and not a stone will remain’ – and feeling a mixture of huge sadness and actually great relief, because to be liberated from it all would be His will. The power and the privilege will crumble and be overthrown.
And then they descended into the Kidron Valley, as they will do later on, after the Last Super, when the New Covenant is given to them fed to them. Except this time, they go up again to the Mount of Olives, in silence I like to think, if only because nothing of what they said is recorded. Arriving at the Mount sometime later, having had the space to form their thoughts and questions, they say ‘tell us, when will this be?’ and “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus makes two points, both of which are pertinent for us today.
First of all and most starkly, we are warned of the costs of discipleship, one of which – a large one of which – is resisting the voices of those who would subvert the message of Christ for their own ends and claim to have some kind of inside information on when the world will end. We are not to be misled or deceived, even when we are facing trials and terror which would naturally turn our minds to accepting easier answers. This is, I believe, very much a warning for our times. In the midst of anguish and fear, keep faithful, pray, attend Mass, perform acts of kindness and then people will know who we follow.
Secondly it is wrong for us to use tragedies to somehow begin a theological debate, an abstract argument, about when Jesus may or may not be returning. That’s what the false teachers do and it is not our way, it is not His way.
The way we are called to is to recognize that tragedies, war, genocide, and other works of the Devil are a call for us to be transformed and for us to work for the transformation of the world and the systems that oppress people, and to call out the demonic. Jesus uses the destruction of the Temple as a symbol of the destruction of all that which oppresses people – and overturns the tables and overturns the temple which does not mark the end, but the beginning. May we work to create a temple fit for Him, so when He returns, He sees His own self in our community, whatever building or temple we inhabit.