The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – 2014
Eze.47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1Cor.3: 9-11, 16-17; Jn.2:13-22
A man was driving without his seatbelt. When he spotted a patrol car right behind him, he grabbed for the belt and put it on. But it was too late, and the red and blue lights began to flash. “You weren’t wearing your seatbelt,” said the officer. “Yes I was,” said the man, “and if you don’t believe me, ask my wife.” “So how about it, ma’am?” asked the cop.
“Officer,” she said, “I’ve been married to this man for forty years, and there’s one thing I’ve learned: Never argue with him when he’s drunk! Just give him a ticket for not wearing the seat belt.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t bother to argue with the unjust merchants and money changers who have converted the Temple into a noisy “market place” and a “den of thieves.” Instead, he frightens them with his angry order and chases them away, holding a whip in his hands.
The central theme of today’s readings is the warning that, as baptized Christians, we are the temples of God where the Spirit of God dwells and that we should not desecrate the temple of God by sin. Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Have you ever wanted to go back to see the home in which you lived as a child? Go back to the school in which you entered kindergarten or the first grade? Or maybe, with friends, go back to your old high school? Have you ever wanted to see the home you first lived in after you were married? All of us have probably taken ourselves back to those “firsts”.
Today the Roman Catholic Church takes us back to Rome, to Rome under the reign of the Emperor Constantine. On Nov. 9, 324A.D. Pope St. Sylvester consecrated the first public Christian church in the ancient City of Rome. It was built on property given to the Church by the Emperor Constantine and then converted into a Christian church and given the name “The Church of Saint Savior.” Centuries later, in the eleventh century, it became known as the Cathedral of St. John Lateran.
Buildings are important not just to keep us warm and dry. They are important for many, many reasons. Winston Churchill said it so clearly when London had to be rebuilt after the World War II. “We shape our buildings then our buildings shape our lives.” A church building is a holy place, a place where God’s people gather for prayer and worship and sacrifice.
But a church building is important not just because God is there but because we are. A church building is called a church only because it is where the Church gathers and prays and celebrates God’s saving love. Without the gathering of God’s people, it would not be a church, even if it were the most beautiful building ever built. So today’s commemoration of St. John Lateran is a feast worth celebrating; it’s also a feast reminding us that Church is more than a place to go.
So many people today claim to belong to a church, but they are seldom there. I think they deceive themselves to say they belong to a church unless they belong to the gathering of God’s people. And that’s what Church really is.
In the Second Reading St. Paul says, “You are God’s building.” Those who are physically unable to be part of the gathering because of sickness or infirmity are still connected with us through the Eucharist our Communion ministers take to them each week.
Belonging to a Church is more than having your name on a church’s roster or in the church’s computer. Being part of a church involves more than simply believing in Christ. St. James (2:19) tells us the devils also believe … and tremble with fear. Later on in his letter, Paul uses another example to show, that following Christ means, being part of a community of Christ’s body and we need to be united and work together as one.
In today’s First Reading, Ezekiel describes the Temple as a source of life-giving water for a broad sweep of land. And this land will become the marvelously fertile home of the restored tribes when the exiles return. He prophesies how the small stream will flow to the East making the land fertile for the returned exiles.
Thus, the Temple in Jerusalem is pictured as the source of God’s abundant blessings for His people when they will finally be allowed to return to their homeland, fully repentant and reconciled with God. The Temple of Jerusalem was the symbol of Jewish religion and the only center of their common worship and sacrifices. Weekly Sabbath prayers and the teaching of the Law took place in local synagogues under the leadership of the rabbis.
Jesus did his controversial cleansing of this Temple in its outer courtyard called the Court of the Gentiles, since Gentiles were allowed to enter it. The merchants selling animals and the money-changers at work had converted the Court of the Gentiles into a noisy market making it impossible for the Gentiles to worship Yahweh.
The Temple authorities, by sharing the profit made by merchants and money-changers, had converted the Temple into a “den of thieves”. Jesus’ reaction to this commercialized Faith was fierce. Since no weapons were allowed inside the Temple, Jesus had to construct his own: a whip of cords.
John adds an additional note that Jesus’ disciples remembered Ps.69:9 (“Zeal for your house consumes me”), as a justification for Jesus’ rage. Filled with zeal for the House of God, that special place where humans and God met, Jesus challenged a religious practice that was simply external. But the great emphasis here is not so much on the cleansing of the Temple, but on the replacement of the Temple. That is the Body of Jesus.
So our relationship with God must be that of a child to his parent, with no thought of loss or gain, but only of mutual love, respect and the common good. Hence, fulfilling one’s Sunday obligation only out of fear of mortal sin and consequent eternal punishment is a non-Christian approach.
We need to remember that we are the temples of the Holy Spirit: St. Paul reminds us that we are God’s temples because the Spirit of God dwells in us. Hence, we have no right to desecrate God’s temple by impurity and injustice. We are expected to cleanse our hearts of pride, hatred, jealousy and all evil thoughts, desires and planning.
We need to love our parish Church and use it. Our Church is the place where we come together as a community to love and praise God. It is the holy place where we gather strength to support one another in the task of living the Gospel. It is the place where we come privately to enter into intimate conversation with God.
Jesus has promised that He would be with us always until the end of time. So let us continue to offer our prayers, asking God to bless us as his people gathered in faith. Amen.