The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
|Giotto: Cleansing of the Temple|
It is unusual to have a feast day dedicated to a church building. In fact, there is only one such day in the Church calendar, and that is today’s feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. The Lateran Basilica is one of the most important churches in Christendom. Its original construction early in the third century after Christ marked the advent of the toleration of Christianity in the pagan Roman Empire by the Emperor Constantine.
Constantine’s edict of toleration came right after one of the most large scale and brutal persecutions of the Church by Constantine’s predecessor Diocletian. In that persecution practically every Christian church had been vandalized or destroyed. Constantine signaled a change of policy by granting land on Rome’s Lateran hill for the construction of a new church. From that time to today the Lateran Basilica has been the seat or cathedral of the Pope in his capacity as Bishop of Rome.
Despite its importance, the Church takes the opportunity in today’s readings to make an even more important point. In the first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel we see that a stream of water flows from the Temple, and that the water will irrigate or give life to the whole land. The Temple is the House of God, and the water is a symbol of the Spirit of God that gives life to us all. Some commentators even see the water as a symbol of the water that flowed from the side of Christ after He had been pierced by the centurion’s lance at the Crucifixion.
In today’s gospel we see that Jesus identifies himself with the Temple. It is that famous scene that takes place almost at the beginning of the gospel of John where Jesus drives the moneychangers and sellers of sacrificial animals out of the Temple. Jesus is shocked by the desecration of the Temple and in a rare display of anger; he literally drives the offenders out, and tells then to take their animals with them.
Take these out of here,
And stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.
The onlookers take offense at his disruption of this business that everyone regarded as normal and traditional. They ask him for a sign that might explain or justify his seemingly rash action. Jesus usually ignores requests for miraculous signs but in this case he gives a shocking and mysterious answer.
Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.
He calls Himself a Temple, and even though the onlookers misunderstood, we understand that he was referring to his own death and resurrection. Like the Temple in the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision, Jesus will be the source of the living water that will irrigate the world. He will prove it by his Resurrection three days after he is put to death.
In today’s second reading from his first letter to the newly converted Christians in Corinth, St. Paul says something even more amazing.
Brothers and sisters:You are God’s building….Do you not know that you are the temple of God,And that the Spirit of God dwells in you?If anyone destroys god’s temple,God will destroy that person;For the temple of God, which you are, is holy.
Jesus referred to Himself as a Temple, and St. Paul goes a step further and claims that the Christian community, no matter how big or small, is also a Temple in which the Spirit of God dwells. It is not so much the building or structure but the people who come together there to worship with Jesus. We are the temple from which the living waters flow.
This concept was incredible and revolutionary in the time of Jesus and St. Paul, and is still revolutionary today. A building, no matter how magnificent or beautiful, is just an artifact or historical monument without a congregation of believers. Jesus did say, “where ever two or more of you are gathered together in my name, there I am among you.”
If we are the Temple of God, then we are also called to be the living waters that flow from the Temple. It is up to us in our own little way to renew the face of the earth.
Reading 1. Ezekiel 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12
Reading II. 1 Corinthians 3: 9c-11, 16-17
Gospel. John 2: 13-22 (Cleansing of the Temple)