Oculi mei Semper: the Introit
THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE IN
ST JOHN'S GOSPELOne of the main themes in St John's Gospel is the story of how Jesus came to be the Temple as well as the sacrifice of the New Covenant. It is there at the very beginning of the Prologue where it says, "And the Word became flesh and pitched its tent among us." This is a reference to the Tent of Meeting that accompanied Moses and the Israelites; and this tent, with its basic plan and measurements that came from God, was replaced in the time of Soloman by the temple. Then there is another reference at the start of Christ's public ministry with today's Gospel. At the end of his ministry, there is the symbolism of Christ's side being pierced by a lance out of which pours blood and water which, as we will see, is also a reference to the temple.
In order to understand the cleansing of the temple, we must understand what the temple was. In a nutshell, it was the meeting place between God and his people.
The purpose of the Temple is for God to dwell with man.The word "korban" which we translate as "sacrifice" has as its root the Hebrew verb which means "to draw near" or "to approach".
It was not to provide atonement for sin. That was not its function. Instead it is because we are unclean, and sinful, and God who is holy can not dwell with unclean and sinful man, that atonement for us is required as we “draw near” to G-d. In fact the Hebrew word for “drawing near” is the same as “making a sacrifice.”
The purpose for the sacrifices were so that we, as unclean, sinful man, could draw near to him without being vaporized. (Jerusalem Council)
Before the Fall, Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the evening. Sin made this impossible because sin has become part and parcel of our make-up. To root it out of us completely would require a radical transformation that would kill us. The tares had to be left among the wheat till the Last Day. In God's great mercy, he established a way by which the Jews could approach him without dying in the process. However, this approach was still associated with death, not the death of those who came near, but of animals as a substitute. Of course, the death of animals could not solve the basic problem and only served to remind the Jews that the kind of union to which God has called human beings can only come about through death and that the union with God as the chosen people was only a shadow of the real thing. The real thing could come only with Jesus and his death and transformation in the resurrection.
Thus, the coming of Jesus would mean that the temple had fulfiled its purpose and its role would be taken over by Christ. He is the true temple. He is also the true paschal lamb. Not that the temple and the paschal lamb were false, but they were shadows of the reality who is Christ.
We must see from this that salvation is nothing less than union with God, and sacrifice is a necessary means to that end. However, in the New Covenant, the union with God is nothing less than sharing in his very life, in the life of the Holy Trinity, and this is only possible by our sharing in Christ's death and resurrection. Hence, the old temple and the old sacrifices are not enough.
Jesus Christ is the true temple.
The function of the temple was for God to dwell with man. Jesus is the Word incarnate, both God and humanity are united in the single Divine Person of the Word. The action of the Holy Spirit binds all of humanity, past, present and future, to Christ's own divinity and humanity so that we can all say, "Our Father." Thus it is true that
This primal unity is completely present in Christ. His death on the Cross is not His alone – He dies the death of every single human being – bearing the sins of all. The insight of the saints tells us that this same reality must be ours as well. Christ has not done something for us in our absence. The Cross He endured is the same Cross He invites us to take up. And that Cross is also a universal Cross (the Cross of the whole Adam). We do not go there only for our own death, but for the death of everyone (and thus the resurrection of all).Thus Christ more than makes up for the destruction of the temple.
(Glory to God for All Things)
Jesus is also the reality for which the Paschal Lamb is the shadow. ""Christ our Passover has been sacrificed; therefore let us keep the feast" (1 Cor 5:7)
The feast of the Pasch was, perhaps, the busiest time for the priests of the temple. It was also big business!
Jesus is the true paschal sacrifice
The population of Jerusalem was swelled by about three million pilgrims. King Agrippa wanted to discover how many people came to the temple to sacrifice their lambs prior to cooking and eating them in their homes. He asked for a small portion of each lamb that was slaughtered and, in that year, there were 600,000 lambs. Each represented about ten people per family and friends.
Killing the animal was not an act of sacrifice. The pouring of its blood on the base of the altar was the priestly act of sacrifice. The family would buy the lamb from the priests with special temple money and most would ask a priest to kill the animal. The pilgrims were divided into three and one group was allowed in, then another, and then the other. There were two, each in turn. There were two lines of priests who stood shoulder to shoulder between the place of slaughter and the altar. The blood of the animal was poured into silver or gold basins which were then passed up the line to the altar where the blood was poured at the base of the altar - this was the act of sacrifice - from which it passed down a canal into a huge vat. When, in the evening, all the lambs had been slaughtered and the blood poured out - at King Agrippa's census there were 600,000 of them - a bung was removed at the bottom of the vat and the blood poured through a hole in the side of the temple, helped by hoses of water, into a canal which ran into the valley below where it was used by the farmers to enrich their land. Of course, the farmers had paid the priests for the privilege.
If you want to guess how much the temple and its priests gained from this day's work, they made money on the exchange of secular money into temple money, in the cost of each lamb, and they received the skin of each animal, one shoulder from each animal, and the price of the blood from the farmers. They also were involved in the sale of animal skins and meat.
For all the temple's religious significance, the temple priests were very unpopular with the ordinary Jewish population. They were extremely rich and yet levied a temple tax on all Jews, and a large number of people were in their debt. Their unpopularity received a huge boost when the Syrian dictator Antiochus Epiphanes placed a statue of the god Jupiter in the temple and sacrificed a sow on the altar. The priests went on serving Jupiter as though nothing had happened. This brought about the revolt of the Maccabees, but the damage to the priests' reputation had been done.
A belief among the common people that when the Messiah came, he would throw out the whole priestly caste and establish a new priesthood was very common. Matthew, Mark and Luke place the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Holy Week. The crowds welcome Jesus as the Christ in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Jesus then does what they all expected him to do: he cleanses the temple and throws out the money changers. However, instead of taking over Jerusalem as they expected and overthrowing the priests, he went back to preaching as before. Some days later, the same crowds who welcomed him are crying, "Crucify him! Crucify him!!"
In St John' Gospel, this incident is placed at the beginning of Christ's public life to indicate that it is a clue to help us understand the whole story of his conflict with the Jews and also to understand his role. God through him is going to establish a new sacrifice, a new temple and a new priesthood "according to the rite of Melchizedek," but not in the way the Jews expected. His sacrifice on the Cross would more than compensate for the loss of the paschal lamb, and that he was the new temple is indicated by the fact that, when the sacrifice was over, blood and water flowed from his side as it did at the end of all sacrifices, especially the paschal sacrifice, from the side of the temple.
Now, Christ's sacrifice is not only perpetual as was the offering of the Tamid lamb, together with flour and wine, at 9am and 3pm every day in the temple, it is eternal because his blood is offered by Christ himself in the heavenly sanctuary to his Father. In the Eucharist, we enter into this one eternal offering of his Cross being one body and, hence, one temple and one sacrifice with him. As a climax of our participation, we receive Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity into our very selves, and thus the liturgy of heaven becomes the liturgy of the Church making her Christ's body, and then - wonder of wonders - it becomes the liturgy within our heart, and we become, each one of us, the temple of God.
This brings us to Lent and why the cleansing of the temple is a Gospel for Lent. Think a moment! We are about to receive Christ within us at our invitation! We are about to become his temple! To what extent can his charge against the temple be levelled justly at me? What do I have to do to make my heart a fitting abode for Christ? Lent is the time for us to take this very seriously because, if we don't take it seriously during Lent, when will we take it seriously?
As one of the Cistercian saints said, we must live in order to love and die in order to rise again. We must live in communion with Christ's life and die in communion with Christ's death. We must become one with Christ because the Incarnation makes it possible. Like the temple, we need a lot of cleansing, and Lent is the time to concentrate on this.
Lent in the fourth century
Lent has been around for ages, but have you ever wondered what the early Church Fathers say about Lent?
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
It displeases Your sight.
I confess it, I know.
But who shall cleanse it,
to whom shall I cry
but to you?
from my secret faults, O Lord,
and spare Your servant
from strange sins.
St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ's sake, Amen
St. Gregory Nazianzen (329 - 390)
"Christ fasted a while before His temptation; we, before the Paschal feast - the matter of fasting is the same. This hath in us the force of mortifying us with Christ and is the purifying preparation to the feast. And He indeed fasted forty days; for He was God; but we proportionate this to our power, though zeal persuades some to leap even beyond their strength."
St. Basil the Great (330 - 379)
"Fasting is the beginning of penance or repentance, the continence of the tongue, the bridle of anger, the banishment of lust."
"Fasting is our assimilation unto the Angels, the temperament of life."
St. Ambrose (340 - 397)
"Not every hunger makes an acceptable fast, but that hunger which is undertaken from the fear of God."
"For so hath the Lord appointed, that as for His Passion we should mourn in the fasts of Lent, so for His Resurrection, we should rejoice in the fifty days following. Therefore, we fast not in this fifty days, because in these the Lord is with us. "
St. Jerome (347 - 420)
"The Lord hath taught us that the fiercer sort of devils cannot be overcome but by prayer and fasting."
"The Lord Himself, the true Jonah, sent to preach unto the world, fasted forty days, and leaving us the inheritance of the fast, under this number prepares our souls for the eating of His Body."
"The Lord fasted forty days in the wilderness, that He might leave unto us the solemn days of the fasts."
St. Chrysostom (349 - 407)
"And the ground and teacher of all these things, fasting will be unto us; fasting, I mean, not that of most men, but that which is the true fast, viz. the abstinence not from meats only, but from sins."
BISHOP R. BARRON ON LENT
Bishop Robert Barron on Lent & Temptation
The Practices of Lent
Bishop R. Barron on God's Mercy
A Lenten Reflection
A Celebration of Padre Pio
"Pray, hope and don't worry"
February 24, 2018 · Fr. Stephen Freeman
my source: The Excellent Orthodox blog Glory to God for All Things
According to St. Basil, God is the “only truly Existing.” Our own existence is a gift from God who is our Creator. None of us has “self-existing” life. We exist because God sustains us in existence – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
Sin is the rejection of this gift of God – a movement away from true existence.
Much of our attention in the modern world is engaged seemingly with things that have no “true existence.” We engage with illusions, with digital constructs. Our economy allows us to escape the normal necessities such as seasonal scarcity or other mundane concerns. We are increasingly removed from the very environment in which we naturally live.
It is said that astronauts, after spending a prolonged time in space, have lingering effects of zero-gravity. Our bodies are made for gravity and require its constant pull for everything from muscle tone to bone density. But we now live in situations in which many forms of natural “gravity” have been reduced or removed. What effect does the long-term ability to have almost any food at any time of year have on the human body? As someone who has spent the better part of my life at a desk, I can attest to the effect of a sedentary existence. My lower back, my range of motion, the flexibility of my joints are all consistent with the modern white-collar worker.
What effect do such things have on the soul? For the soul requires “gravity” as well. Plato stated in his Republic, that all children should learn to play a musical instrument because music was required for the right development of the soul. We give far too little thought to such things, assuming that no matter what environment we live in, our inherent freedom of choice remains unscathed and we can always decide to do something different, or be something different.
I could decide to run a marathon tomorrow, but I know that the first quarter-mile would leave me gasping for breath and exhausted. You cannot go from 40 years at a desk to the demands of a marathon – just because you choose to do so.
And so we come to Great Lent.
Some see this season of the year as a spiritual marathon. They rise from their sedentary spiritual lives, set off in a sprint and fail before the first week is out. The failure comes in anger, self-recrimination, even despondency.
The first year that I “chose” to fast in the Orthodox manner (it was 4 years before I was received into the Church), the priest I discussed the fast with said, “You can’t keep the fast.” I argued with him until I realized his wisdom.
“Do something easier,” he told me. “Just give up red meat.”
“What about chicken?” I asked.
“Nope. Eat chicken. Eat everything except beef and pork. And pray a little more.”
And so I returned to my Anglican life, a little disappointed that my zeal had made such a poor impression. But my family accepted the proposal and we ate no red meat for Lent. It was, in hindsight, the best Lent my family had ever had. No longer were we musing over “what to give up for Lent,” and instead accepted a discipline that was given to us.
In subsequent years that same priest (who is now my godfather) increased the discipline. And we were ready for it. It is interesting to me, however, that my first experience of an Orthodox fast was being told not to be so strict. The “strict” part was learning to do what I was told. That is sometimes the most difficult fast of all.
Lent is a time to “get real.” Not eating some things is actually normal. In our modern world we have to embrace a natural “gravity” that we could easily leave behind – at least, we have to do this if we want to avoid an atrophy of the soul.
In 2000, the average American ate 180 pounds of meat a year (and 15 pounds of fish and shellfish). That was roughly a third more than in 1959. Scarcity is not an issue in our diet. Our abundance is simply “not real,” and the environment frequently shows the marks of the artificial nature of our food supply. But we have no way of studying what is going on with our souls. What I know to be true is that – as goes the body – so goes the soul. Those who engage the world as consumer are being consumed by the world to an equal measure.
And so we get real.
Getting real means accepting limits and boundaries. Our culture is a bubble of make-believe. It rests on an economy of over-consumption. The crash of 2008 came close to a much greater disaster and could have easily gone into free-fall. Many fail to understand just how fragile our lives truly are. In the season of Lent (and on all the fasting days of the year) we embrace the fragility of our lives. We allow the world to say “no” and take on extra burdens and duties. It is worth keeping in mind that such things do not make us spiritual heroes, first they have to make us human.
SATURDAY 3rd MARCH. THE PRODIGAL SON
N.T. Wright on the significance of
the Cleansing of the Temple
Father Francis Martin s.j. on the same gospel
.St Thomas Aquinas on the Remission of sins
SATURDAY 3rd MARCH. THE PRODIGAL SON
LENT DAY 18
LUKE 15:1-3, 11-32
Friends, our Gospel today is Jesus’ best-known parable: the story of the prodigal son.
In considering this narrative, we are dealing with an icon of the Father told by the one who is himself the Icon of the Father. Thus we have Jesus indirectly crafting a subtle self-portrait. The gathering embrace of the father in the story mirrors that of the heavenly Father, which in turn is represented in that of Jesus.
What happens when the father embraces his son and kisses him? The boy speaks: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” Whenever characters in the Bible come close to the divine grace, they experience a heightened sense of their own unworthiness. This is the dynamic at work in the case of the prodigal son.
But his father ignores his carefully rehearsed speech, and, with an eagerness bordering on impatience, instructs his servants to prepare a celebration. Our participation in the flow of the divine life is, necessarily, a gift. It cannot, in principle, be earned or merited, but only accepted. We can only be embraced by it.