On my retreat last week I was down near Houston, and it was raining and I was meandering through the halls and I remember walking past the library and spying a book about General Sam Houston which I had looked at for a bit last year. General Sam Houston was basically Mr. Texas. But, growing up he lived in another wild country kind of place in Tennessee. The book recalled how various Indians and various ruffians would ride by their place and that they would have to defend their homes from time to time. Today the shutters on our homes are mostly just for show, and they probably don’t close, but their thick wooden shutters did exactly that. Sometimes the Houston family would find arrows or bullet holes in these ancient defenses. Truly, the home is a fortress. Well, that got me thinking about rainy days, and how as a kid I remember building fortresses within my home with my siblings. We would take a blanket or a sheet and anchor it on a shelf or the top of the sofa and pull it down to the ground where another edge would go beneath a toy box or something. We would find ourselves in a kind of lean-to. A fortress within a fortress, a tent within a tent, a temple within a temple.
I mention this because this is essentially what God does with the Israelites – He makes of them a temple within a temple. Consider of all the land, He sets some apart for the Hebrews that will be a land within a land, the Promised Land. Jacob ends up leaving this land with his twelve sons, but they are promised to return. Now Jacob has his name changed to Israel, but we could think of the Holy Land of Israel as the Holy Land of Jacob – or of Jacob’s sons, since they all get a piece. But one of those chunks of land is Judah. Judah happens to be the state that has Jerusalem where David brought the Ark of the Covenant. So among all land we have the Promised Land. Within the Promised Land we have the Land of Judah. Within Judah we have Jerusalem and David’s son built there the Temple of Solomon. Within the Temple of Solomon there are partitions which lead to the Holy Place. And within the Holy Place is the Holy of Holies. Within the Holy of Holies is the Ark of the Covenant and within this resting place of God are the Ten Commandments. A temple within a temple within a temple….
Now, it’s one thing to build a sofa-fortress, but when setting out to build the Temple, Solomon needed a blueprint. He used the description that God gives Israel for building the meeting tent and expands off of that. The temple is to be a place of meeting between God and man and between man and other men. Since Solomon cannot simply do whatever he wants and expect that this will yield a suitable place to meet God – or expect that others will want to come there and meet the wisdom of the Jews. Solomon’s temple had a place for everyone – for God and then a place for the priests, and for the men, and for the women, and even for the gentiles – the uncircumcised – should they desire to encounter God themselves.
Herein lies why Christ takes such drastic measures as making a whip out of cords and driving them all out: the sellers of animals and the money-changers were destroying both of these two purposes for which the temple was constructed. You see the oxen and sheep and doves were cluttering up the one place for the gentiles. Should they have managed to make it all the way through all of those fortress temples to the house of God, they would have been met sharing a stall with the animals – if there was any room in this inn. The authorities were making it clear: they preferred the animals. And Jesus also said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Here the money-changers are clearly showing their preference. They were turning the temple into a cash-making enterprise.
Isn’t it interesting that Christ makes a scourge and cleans up a temple whose divinity was being forgotten and not too much further down the road Christ himself will be scourged in the temple of His Body because He always remembered His own divinity. Yes, the temple of His Body would be scourged and crucified and rise again all for the purpose of giving us His humanity that we might house even His Divine Presence and we might become His Body, His Temple – and individually little temples within the Temple of God – living stones united to Him.
To allow room for His temple, we must widen the temples of our souls by following the Commandments. Notice the Ten Commandments were the first reading. Doing the will of God rather than simply our own is what gives Christ the room to enter into our hearts and stay. We are stretched out so that we can know that we are filled, not only by our own ego – but by the Word of God.
You know when He says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it,” He isn’t lying. He wouldn’t even have been lying if He were to point right to the Temple of Solomon. Why not? Because the Temple of Solomon is simply a model of Him. It is like a picture of the rectory here. If I said, tear this down and I will rebuild it – you would understand more likely that I was talking about the true rectory and not the image.
Perhaps failure to see ourselves as the true Temple of God makes it easier to clutter up the temple of our soul. We often reject others. We write them off and deny forgiveness – even the silent kind of forgiveness that merely stops our hearts from accusing. Sometimes we pick and choose which commandments we think we need – in other words – we try to build our temples by our own designs. This is doomed to be the answer. Perhaps we worship money itself and forget God. God will not infringe upon our freedom to choose Him or settle for less. Speaking of less, I think that sometimes we simply confuse that which only belongs to the outer Court of the Gentiles with something befitting the Holy of Holies. So growing up I liked Star Wars, Cardinal Baseball, and Batman. But I made them into that which was most holy. Nobody told me how the elements of Star Wars (or any other fictional hero) or of good triumphing over evil in general could have been “baptized” and connected to our faith as an image of Christ and His glory. But if I had seen the connection, perhaps I would jumped the chance to follow Christ. Take stock of what you put into your mind: do we allow things that are disconnected at best take the helm of our minds – dethrone Christ from the Holy of Holies? Move that item down to a further remote subset of you heart.
It is interesting that the Jews had this probation of images. God did not want us carving images of Him before Christ came to save us. He didn’t want us serving the image that we made for ourselves rather than His Son. But, now that Christ is here, He no longer gives us simply an image – He continues to give us Himself. And if we not only receive Him in the Eucharist, but let Him reside in the Holy of Holies of our souls – than it is safe for us to have all other things besides so long as they are in the proper context. And if we repent and kick out the various “wild animals and money tables” of our souls, we will be His Image – His living image moved by His Soul and Spirit.