Posts tagged ‘temple’

November 7, 2015

as if all creatures constituted a host of worshipers in the cosmic temple

Key passages from The Liberating Image by J Richard Middleton:

First of all, the interpretation of the imago Dei among systematic theologians almost universally excludes the body from the image (whether explicitly or by omission), thus entrenching a dualistic reading of the human condition. …Any Old Testament scholar worth her salt will acknowledge that the semantic range of selem—the Hebrew word for image in Genesis 1—includes idol. Although its semantic range is broader than this single meaning, we need to account for selem in many contexts clearly referring to a cult image, which in the common theology of the ancient Near East is precisely a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine. A basic word study would thus lead to the preliminary observation that visibility and bodiliness may well be important for understanding the imago Dei and that this dimension of its meaning should not be summarily excluded from consideration. [24-25]

It is more than plausible that in Genesis 1 (like Isaiah 6) God shares with angelic courtiers the decision to commission the human agent for a significant earthly task. …Beyond suggesting that God consulted with angels to create humanity (“let us make”), Genesis 1 may include the notion that humans are created in the likeness of angels. “Image of ‘elohim” in 1:27 would thus appropriately reflect God’s decision to create humanity (“in our image, according to our likeness”) in 1:26. It is fascinating that even the Genesis 2-3 paradise/fall story seems to understand a certain similarity between humans and angels. The latter text uses the very same verb to describe the purpose of both. While adam is placed in the garden to till/work and “keep” (samar) it (2:15), the cherubim are placed east of the garden to “guard” (samar) the way to the tree of life (3:24). In this case, however, it may not be humans imaging angels, since the cherubim seem to take over the human vocation that was forfeited through sin. Thus when adam is expelled from the garden, all that is left to do is to “till” or “work” the ground (3:23). The task of keeping or guarding the garden has been passed on to others. [57-59]

Like the Egyptian god Ptah bringing creatures into being by speaking first in his heart and then with his tongue (in the Memphite Theology) or the Mesopotamian god Marduk first creating and then destroying a constellation by his mere word (in Enuma Elish), creatio per verbum clearly portrays God as supreme in power and authority. [66]

Creation, followed by temple building and then divine rest, is a central theme in Mesopotamian, and perhaps Ugaritic, mythology (both Marduk and Baal have temples built for them after their conquest of the chaos monster). …The notion of Cosmos as temple in Genesis 1 is suggested more specifically by the prominence of sevens in the creation story. …The heptadic structure of Genesis 1 thus seems to have cultic, liturgical significance and may well be associated in some way with the Jerusalem temple. …This association of the number seven with temples extends beyond the Old Testament to other ancient Near Eastern cultures. …But more important than these … associations are the significant structural and thematic parallels between the creation account in Genesis 1 and the account of the construction of the tabernacle … in Exodus. [81-84]

Beyond the association of word and breath, however, the presence of the ruah elohim in Genesis 1 might even suggest that the newly completed cosmic sanctuary would then be indwelt by this divine presence (as the glory of YHWH filled the tabernacle when it was completed in Exodus 40:34). [86]

If the cosmos can be understood as indwelt by the creator, then the language of Psalm 119:91 (“all thoughts are your servants”) might well refer not only to the obedience of creatures to their cosmic ruler, but also to liturgical service in the cosmic sanctuary. This is consistent with Psalm 148, which exhorts all creatures—humans, angels, animals, even the sun, moon, mountains, and trees—to praise the creator, as if all creatures constituted a host of worshipers in the cosmic temple, over which God is exalted as king. This picture of creation as a cosmic temple also suggest the appropriateness of humanity as God’s image in the symbolic world of Genesis 1. For just as no pagan temple in the ancient Near East could be complete without the installation of the cult image of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated, so creation in Genesis 1 is not complete (or “very good”) until God creates humanity on the sixth day as imago Dei, in order to represent and mediate the divine presence on earth. [87]

Bezalel’s discerning artistry in tabernacle-building images God’s own construction of the cosmos. Bezalel’s Spirit-filled craftsmanship, which imitates God’s primordial wise design and construction of the cosmos, is functionally equivalent to the imago Dei. [87]

The human task of exercising power over the earth is nevertheless modeled on God’s creative activity, which, in Genesis 1, is clearly developmental and formative, involving the process of transformation the tohu wabohu into an ordered, harmonious cosmos. By implication, then, the human calling as imago Dei is itself developmental and transformative and may be helpfully understood as equivalent to the labor or work of forming culture or developing civilization. Besides the definitive human task represented in 2:15 by the agricultural metaphor (to “till” and “keep” the garden), which is a paradigmatic form of organizing and transforming the environment into a habitable world for humans, we may note the pervasive interest throughout the primeval history in human cultural achievements and technological innovations such as city-building; and nomadic livestock-herding, music, and metallurgy. The human task thus reflects in significant ways the divine artisan portrayed in Genesis 1 as artfully constructing a world. [89]

The imago Dei also includes a priestly or cultic dimension. In the cosmic sanctuary of God’s world, humans have pride of place and supreme responsibility …as priests of creation, actively mediating divine blessing to the nonhuman world and—in a postfall situation—interceding on behalf of a groaning creation until that day when heaven and earth are redemptively transformed to fulfill God’s purposes for justice and shalom. The human vocation as imago Dei in God’s world this corresponds in important respects to Israel’s vocation as a “royal priesthood” among the nations (Exodus 19:6). [89-90]

Given the widely agreed upon Mesopotamian background of the primeval history, I will assume … that the author of Genesis 1 (whenever he lived) was acquainted (in either oral or written form) with the Mesopotamian notion of the king as image of a god (as a particular crystallization of royal ideology) and that he intentionally challenged this notion with the claim that all humanity was made in God’s image. [145]

In John Walton’s summary, “the cuneiform literature everywhere agrees that people were created to do the work the gods were tired of doing and to provide for the gods’ needs.” [166]

The Mesopotamian deity remained aloof—yet its partaking of the ceremonial repast gave religious sanction, political status, and economic stability to the entire temple organism, which circulated products from fields and pastures across the sacrificial table to those who were either, so to speak, shareholders of the institution or received rations from it. At any rate, the image is the heart and hub of the entire system. His attendance worshipers lived from the god’s table, but they did not sit down with him. [169, extended quotation from A. Leo Oppenheim]

The mythology of Enuma Elish proclaimed in no uncertain terms the servitude (even bondage) of humanity, “created out of evil substance,” as cheap slave labor to do the “dirty work” of the lower gods. [176]

For human sociopolitical life to achieve its best and highest form, society must replicate the divine pattern that the gods enacted in primordial time. Sociopolitical order is thus thought of as a microcosm of the larger world of the gods and their founding of the cosmos, with some central urban site typically conceived as the navel of the world or the bond of heaven and earth. [177]

Human beings as imago Dei are thus not only priests of the Most High, they are (if we may dare to say it) God’s living cult statues on earth. Indeed, humans are the only legitimate or authorized earthly representations of God. …The claim that humanity is created as imago Dei suggests a rationale for the prohibition of images beyond anything we find explicitly stated elsewhere in the Old Testament. [207]

God in Genesis 1 creates for the benefit of the creature, without explicitly asking for a return of any kind. And humans, in God’s image, I suggest, are expected to imitate this primal generosity in their own shared rule of the earth. [211]

It is thus of immense significance that the primeval history recounts the founding of the first city not by God but by a human being. …In the ancient myths … “the gods provide humanity with all the essentials of human civilization. By contrast, in the Bible, early humans develop their own culture. The human being, a creature created by God, is the initiator and creator of its own culture. …Perhaps most significant for purposes of comparison with Mesopotamia, the [Bible’s] primeval history portrays a world without the institution of monarchy. While this would be literally unthinkable in Mesopotamian civilizations (or indeed any of the high cultures of the ancient Near East), on this point Israel’s historical narrative is clear. …It is the king’s primary duty to study the Torah and not exalt himself above other Israelites by inordinately increasing his power or wealth. [217-219]

Thus it would seem, at first glance, that the tower of Babel text describes (and critiques) a particular cultic structure. Yet there is nothing even remotely cultic about the narrative portrayal of this tower in Genesis 11. …Cities may be said to have fortified walls reaching “up to the heavens.” …Prophetic oracles against Babylon, especially in Jeremiah 51 and Isaiah 14:3-23, do not single out cultic practices, but rather imperial hubris, military fortifications, and oppressive power, portraying this in terms of Babylon’s aspiration to reach up to the heavens (see especially Jeremiah 51:53; Isaiah 14:12-20). [223]

This intertextual association of various elements of the Babel story with oppressive military/imperial power coheres well with the suggestion of David Smith that the story does not portray an idyllic world unified with a single primal language, but reflects the Neo-Assyrian imperial practice of imposing the single language of the conqueror on subjugated people. …Thus we find that an extant Assyrian royal inscription declares that Ashurbanipal II “made the totality of all peoples speak one speech” and that “his sovereign approach made the unruly and ruthless kings speak one speech from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Likewise a cylinder inscription of Sargon II boasts: “Populations of the four world quarters with strange tongues and incompatible speech…whom I had taken as booty at the command of Ashur my lord and by the might of my scepter, I caused to accept a single voice,” which Stephanie Dalley interprets as part of the Neo-Assyrian policy of indoctrinating foreigners into their supposedly superior language and culture. [223-224]

God is not threatened by this Promethean act of human assertion. Rather, a careful reading of Genesis 11 in the context of the primeval history suggests that Babel represents imperial civilization par excellence and that this imposed, artificial unity is a danger to the human race. [225]

A canonical interpretation of the [the tower of Babel text] suggests that it ultimately protests the hidden, systemic violence beneath Babylonian/Mesopotamian civilization by stripping away its putative divine legitimization. Babel is thus disclosed as nothing more than a human construction, and a violent one at that. …The civilization that claimed to represent the epitome of order is unmasked as simply another form of chaos. [227]

This invitational character of God’s creative fiats is indicated by their not being imperatives at all, but Hebrew jussives (which have no exact counterpart in English). As Eugene Roop explains, the force of the Hebrew jussive can range “from very strong (almost a command) to very soft (almost a wish)” and “always possesses a voluntary element.” [265]

…The word tôb has in this context at least a twofold connotation, esthetic and ethical. The cosmos is good in two senses: it is both pleasing to God, as a beautiful, well-constructed world, and it is evaluated positively since it enacts God’s will (and is not recalcitrant or rebellious). [266]

Indeed, we need to confront the overwhelming violence that pervades the Bible—from the widespread patriarchal social structure and assumptions that underlie the biblical text (which certainly constitutes a form of systemic violence against women) through the holy wars of Israel against the Canaanites (at God’s command), to the plethora of violent incidents attributed to God’s people in the historical books or to God directly (including eschatological violence). [268]

The opening biblical creation account (which does not contain cosmogonic conflict) now serves as the overture to the entire BIble, dramatically relativizing the other cosmogonies. …Genesis 1 constitutes a normative framework by which we may judge all the violence that pervades the rest of the BIble (including, but not limited to, texts of cosmogonic conflict). [269]

Corresponding to days 1-3, we have days 4-6, on which God fills precisely the static spaces just created with mobile creatures that appropriately inhabit them. …Yet two anomalies are found in this pattern. …We have the interesting phenomenon of two sets of borderline creatures (vegetation and heavenly bodies) that blur the boundaries between the panels as commonly understood. [278-280]

[Genesis 1 depicts] the process of creation as God sharing power with creatures, inviting them to participate (as they are able) in the creative process itself. …Both governing (or ruling) and separating [as tasks assigned to the sun and moon] are paradigmatically divine acts not only in the ancient Near East (especially in the Sumerian and Akkadian creation accounts), but also in Genesis 1, where God’s sovereign creative activity on days 1-3 consists precisely in three acts of separation. …Likewise, the “expanse” or “firmament” that God created (on day 2) is granted the godlike function of separating the waters above from the waters below (1:6), in imitation of God own separation of light from darkness on day 1. …This implies that sun, moon, and firmament, like humans in God’s image, participate in (or imitate) God’s own creative actions. [287-288]

The earth is invited to produce first vegetation (1:11) and later land animals (1:24), [while] the waters are invited to teem with water creatures (1:20). They are invited, in other words, to exercise their God-given fertility and thus to imitate God’s own creative actions in filling the world with living things. Actually, God takes quite a risk in calling for the earth to produce vegetation [on day 3] since up to that point in the story God has not yet engaged in the act of filling (it is not until days 4-6 that God fills with mobile being the regions or spaces demarcated on days 1-3). Indeed, on the next day, it is God who imitates the earth’s prior creative action by filling the sky with heavenly bodies, which in the literary structure of Genesis 1 is a derivative actions. God is, rhetorically speaking, preempted by the earth and does not seem to be threatened by this. Attention to these rhetorical features points us to a God who does not hoard divine creative power, with some desperate need to control, but rather to a God who is generous with power, sharing it with creatures, that they might make their own contribution to the harmony and beauty of the world. [288-289]

When creation is complete and we would expect a final formula, “There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day,” there is none, which leaves the attentive reader hanging and suggests that the seventh day is open-ended or unfinished. In the literary structure of the book of Genesis, the seventh day has no conclusion since God continues to rest from creating, having entrusted care of the earth to human beings. [291]

In Brueggemann’s summary, the picture of God in Genesis 1 and of humanity as imago Dei foregrounds “the creative use of power which invites, evokes, and permits. There is nothing here of coercive or tyrannical power, either for God or for humankind.” …The imago Dei [grounds] an ethic characterized fundamentally by power with rather than power over. [297]

Summary thoughts after reading The Liberating Image by J Richard Middleton:

God created the world as a temple with humans representing Him within this sanctuary as living and breathing images (legitimate idols) of Himself. Our presence makes the temple of this world into a place where the Creator is known, recognized, worshiped, and enjoyed everywhere and in every detail. Humans are made to act like their Creator, representing Him as His stewards, servant-kings, and priests. We were commissioned to fill up this temple-creation, doing God’s work of protecting everything, crafting beautiful new things, inviting new life to flourish, and recognizing God’s good design within everything. We do this, first, by simply giving names to each new thing, because to name a thing is to recognize it, uniquely, as a gift from God. God’s great goal and desire for this creation is for humans to produce and develop cultures and communities spreading throughout the world that He made and filling it with His image-bearing children. Every detail of creation, living and inanimate, is made to communicate God’s goodness and blessing, and humans are made to recognize, receive, and proclaim God’s goodness as we find it in every corner of our temple-world.

Genesis 1 and 2 teach these things in beautiful, careful language. They also intentionally and specifically oppose a set of creation myths from the surrounding cultures (where Israel was enslaved in Egypt and exiled in Babylon):

  • Humanity is not made to carry out tasks that the gods do not wish to do or to provide for the needs of the gods. Instead, humanity is made to enjoy God’s blessing and to imitate God’s own free work (of calling forth and crafting good and beautiful things that share God’s own life-giving qualities).
  • Humanity is not made from some inferior substance (such as the blood of an evil sub-deity who was vanquished by the higher gods). Instead, humanity is crafted from clay and the Creator’s own breath to carry the Creator’s own image and likeness.
  • The divine image and vocation does not belong only to the priests and kings of great civilizations. All humanity (male and female from every tribe, nation, and tongue) are God’s image within the created worldequally, collectively, and individually.
  • Human culture and civilizationin all its growth, power, noise, and diversityis never a threat to God. Unlike the pagan gods who must control and often limit aspects of human life and culture in order to ensure that humanity serves their divine purposes, God’s intention for human culture is always that it would flourish freely, spreading and diversifying of its own accord throughout the Creator’s world.
  • God does not create the world through violence, by defeating and dismembering the monsters of chaos and deep darkness to create a temple for Himself. God invites with a voice of authority but also a voice that always leaves space for a voluntary and participatory response. God hovers (like a brooding mother bird) and invites with his voice and crafts with his hands rather than attacking, cutting, or tearing like a warrior.
  • After the fall and rebellion of humanity, God does show Himself to be a warrior against the violence that humanity unleashes upon itself (and upon the creation that humanity was designed to protect and prosper). Violence and coercion immediately begins to plague and characterize every aspect of human life, culture, and civilization. As victims and perpetrators of violence, humans become agents of chaos and darkness instead of life and light. The most sophisticated city-empires are only a complex cover for extreme internal and structural violence against free, flourishing, and diverse human communities. In the tower of Babel text, an empire arises that forces many nations to speak one language and to serve the power of one kingly and priestly class (who alone represent the will of the gods), and God fights against this empire for the sake of preserving and promoting free and flourishing human culture throughout the world. This theme (of God fighting for free and flourishing human culture against empires of violence, coercion, and chaos) is central to the entire biblical story: the Great Flood, the tower of Babel, Abram called out of Ur, Joseph sold into Egypt, Moses fleeing Pharaoh, Samuel/David versus Saul/Philistines, Daniel versus Nebuchadnezzar/Darius, Christ versus Herod/Caesar/Satan, and the church versus the Whore of Babylon. Scripture is full of calls for God’s people to defend the powerless against the powerful (within a fallen world that is so given to violence). This is essential to the biblical idea of justice: defending the most powerless in a violent world because every human is God’s image (created to make God present within His good creation).
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December 15, 2013

this improvised temple

From The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder:

There had been some changes made in the storage yard. Some of the ornate old porch pillars had been propped up around the lean-to so that they seemed to be supporting its sagging tin roof; the statue of Diana had been moved into position near this improvised temple; and in the place of honor at the back and center of the shed, the bust of Nefertiti was enthroned in the broken birdbath. The little boy was playing quietly with his octopus on the floor of the shed and the two girls were busily pulling the tall dry weeds that choked the yard, and stacking them in a pile near the fence. “Look, Melanie,” the girl named April said. She displayed a prickly bouquet of thistle blossoms. “Neat!” Melanie nodded enthusiastically. “Lotus blossoms?” April considered her uninviting bouquet with new appreciation. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Lotus blossoms.” Melanie had another inspiration. She stood up, dumping her lap full of weeds, and reached for the blossoms—gingerly because of the prickles. Holding them at arm’s length, she announced dramatically, “The Sacred Flower of Egypt.” Then she paced with dignity to the birdbath and with a curtsy presented them to Nefertiti. April had followed, watching approvingly, but now she suddenly objected. “No! Like this,” she said. Taking the thistle flowers, she dropped to her knees and bent low before the birdbath. Then she crawled backward out of the lean-to. “Neat,” Melanie said, and, taking the flowers back, she repeated the ritual, adding another refinement by tapping her forehead to the floor three times. April gave her stamp of approval to this latest innovation by trying it out herself, doing the forehead taps very slowly and dramatically. Then the two girls went back to their weed pulling, leaving the thistles before the altar of Nefertiti.

October 18, 2013

spiritual dew will envelop your soul

Just as a calm and sheltered harbour provides great security to the ships moored there, so does the temple of God: when people enter it, it snatches them away from worldly affairs as from a storm, and gives them the capacity to stand and listen to God’s words in calm and security.

This place is the bedrock of virtue and the school of spiritual life…. You need only set foot on the threshold of a church and at once you are liberated from the cares of daily life.

Go on into the church, and a spiritual dew will envelop your soul. The stillness there moves you to awe, and teaches you how to live spiritually.

It elevates your thoughts and prevents you from remembering things or matters belonging to the present life. It transports you from earth to heaven.

And if there is such great gain from simply being in church when no service is going on, then how much benefit will people derive from being present … when the holy Apostles proclaim the Gospel, Christ stands in our midst, God the Father receives the Mysteries that are performed and the Holy Spirit gives His own joy.

Attributed in several online sources to St. John Chrysostom (although I have been unable to find the work from which this is taken).

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December 8, 2012

God who uses corporeal objects continually

Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.

From The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.

June 20, 2012

turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep

From Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (155).

Hidden City

…that you might approach the Jerusalem of the heart…
                                                     —Isaac the Least

And now I think Jerusalem abides untouched,
the temple yet intact, its every cornerstone
in place, its vault replete with vivid scent, its ark

alight with vigil lamps whose oil is never spent.
In psalm the pilgrim asks forgiveness, pleads that God
return the Spirit to the heart, and look, the Ghost

had never left, had never for an instant drawn
away, had only watched His presence made obscure
by soul’s own intermittent darkening. Just so,

the three companions of the Lord had blindly walked
the lesser part of three dim years before their eyes
beheld the Light that bathed the Son eternally.

Just so, the Light of Tabor spools extending past
the vision of the multitude, if nonetheless
apparent to the meek, the poor, the pure in heart.

Just so, the Holy City bides within the heart,
awaits the day the pilgrim will arrive, will quit
the road, turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep, and see.

February 25, 2012

sabbath was to time what temple was to space

The sabbath was the day when human time and God’s time met, when the day-to-day succession of tasks and sorrows was set aside and one entered a different sort of time, celebrating the original sabbath and looking forward to the ultimate one. This was the natural moment to celebrate, to worship, to pray, to study God’s law. The sabbath was the moment during which one sensed the onward movement of history from its first foundations to its ultimate resolution. If the Temple was the space in which God’s sphere and the human sphere met, the sabbath was the time when God’s time and human time coincided. Sabbath was to time what Temple was to space.

…This sense of looking forward was heightened by the larger sabbatical scheme in which the seventh year was a year of agricultural rest and the seven-times-seventh year the year of jubilee, the time for slaves to be freed, for debts to be cancelled, for life to get back on track.

…The jubilee was, as it were, the once-in-a-lifetime “exodus” that everyone could experience. We don’t know whether or to what extent the jubilee as set forth in Leviticus 25 was actually practiced in Jesus’s day. But it remained in the scriptures as a reminder that God’s time was being marked out week by week, seven years by seven years, half century by half century. Matthew hints at all this in his own way, right at the start of his gospel, by arranging Jesus’s genealogy in three groups of fourteen generations (that is, six sevens), so that Jesus appears at the start of the sabbath-of-sabbaths moment. And, as we have seen, people in Jesus’s day were pondering, calculating, and longing for the greatest superjubilee of them all, the “seventy weeks” (that is, seventy times seven years) of Daniel 9:24.

…Now, and only now, do we see what Jesus meant when he said the time is fulfilled. That was part of his announcement right at the start of his public career (Mark 1:15). Only this, I believe, will enable us to understand his extraordinary behavior immediately afterwards. He seems to have gone out of his way to flout the normal sabbath regulations. Most people in the modern church have imagined that this was because the sabbath had become “legalistic,” a kind of observance designed to boost one’s sense of moral achievement, and that Jesus had come to sweep all that away in a burst of libertarian, antilegalistic enthusiasm. That, though commonplace, is a trivial misunderstanding. It is too “modern” by half.

…In particular, Jesus came to Nazareth and announced the jubilee. This was the time—the time!—when all the sevens, all the sabbaths, would rush together. This was the moment Israel and the world had been waiting for. When you reach your destination, you don’t expect to see signposts anymore. …It was completely consistent with Jesus’s vision of his own vocation that he would do things that said, again and again from one angle after another, that the time had arrived, that the future, the new creation, was already here, and that one no longer needed the sabbath. The sabbath law was not, then, a stupid rule that could now be abolished (though some of the detailed sabbath regulations, as Jesus pointed out, had led to absurd extremes, so that you were allowed to pull a donkey out of a well on the sabbath, but not to heal the sick). It was a signpost whose purpose had now been accomplished

…If Jesus is a walking, living, breathing Temple, he is also the walking, celebrating, victorious sabbath. But this means that the time of Jesus’s public career, taken as a whole, also acquires a special significance. He spoke about this special significance when he insisted that the wedding guests can’t fast while the bridegroom is still at the party. Something new is happening; a new time has been launched; different things are now appropriate. Jesus has a sense of a rhythm to his work, a short rhythm in which he will launch God’s kingdom, the God’s-in-charge project, and complete it in the most shocking and dramatic symbolic act of all.

….In a solemn warning that resonates with many similar ones, Jesus warns his hearers that they may one day see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets—and people from east and west, from north and south!—sitting down to eat in the kingdom of God, while they themselves will be thrown out (Luke 13:18–30). The time of Jesus’s public career is the time of fulfillment, the time through which God’s new creation, his earth-as-in-heaven new reality, is being launched, up close and personal. But this means it is possible to miss the boat, to lose the one chance. That is the warning that goes with the note of fulfillment.

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters by N. T. Wright

February 22, 2012

redefining sacred space around himself

This collection of passages captures several key theological ideas about the temple as well as the human offices of king and priest. Christ comes to replace the temple with Himself: becoming the perfect temple, king and priest. This is all clearly connected to the idea that Adam was also a king given the task of tending and protecting the temple-garden (including the jobs of protecting it from evil as well as conducting further planning and planting). We also encounter the overarching idea that “creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in.” Many basic and overlapping truths:

The same is true when we consider the other great “royal” aspiration: to cleanse or rebuild the Temple. We regularly refer to the striking action Jesus performed in the Temple as his “cleansing of the Temple.” We don’t, perhaps, always realize that any such action was staking an implicitly royal claim: it was kings, real or aspiring, who had authority over the Temple. It was Israel’s kings or would-be kings who planned it (David), built it (Solomon), cleansed it (Hezekiah, Josiah, Judah the Hammer), rebuilt it (Zerubbabel, Herod the Great), and hoped to defend it (Simon bar-Giora) or to rebuild it once more (Simon the Star).

…So when Jesus came into the Temple and performed another dramatic action, driving out the money changers and the dealers selling animals for sacrifice, this too would have been seen within a web of prophetic allusion and symbolism. Jeremiah, after all, had famously smashed a pot at the same place (Jer. 19), symbolizing the coming judgment. But what was Jesus intending to communicate? What did he mean by his action? Like many others, I have become convinced that Jesus’s dramatic action was a way of declaring that the Temple was under God’s judgment and would, before too long, be destroyed forever.

…The joining place was visible where the healings were taking place, where the party was going on (remember the angels celebrating in heaven and people joining in on earth?), where forgiveness was happening. In other words, the joining place, the overlapping circle, was taking place where Jesus was and in what he was doing. Jesus was, as it were, a walking Temple. A living, breathing place-where-Israel’s-God-was-living. As many people will see at once, this is the very heart of what later theologians would call the doctrine of the incarnation. But it looks quite different from how many people imagine that doctrine to work. Judaism already had a massive “incarnational” symbol, the Temple. Jesus was behaving as if he were the Temple, in person. He was talking about Israel’s God taking charge. And he was doing things that put that God-in-chargeness into practice. It all starts to make sense. In particular, it answers the old criticism that “Jesus talked about God, but the church talked about Jesus”—as though Jesus would have been shocked to have his pure, God-centered message corrupted in that way. This sneer fails to take account of the fact that, yes, Jesus talked about God, but he talked about God precisely in order to explain the things that he himself was doing.

…If Jesus is acting out a vision—astonishing, risky, and one might say crazy—in which he is behaving as if he is the Temple, redefining sacred space around himself, something equally strange and risky is taking place in the realm of time.

…Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in. And the seventh-day “rest” was therefore a sign pointing forward into successive ages of time, a forward-looking signpost that said that one day, when God’s purposes for creation were accomplished, there would be a moment of ultimate completion, a moment when the work would finally be done, and God, with his people, would take his rest, would enjoy what he had accomplished.

From Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters by N.T. Wright.

December 7, 2011

a temple most august

God the Father, the Mightiest Architect, had already raised, according to the precepts of His hidden wisdom, this world we see, the cosmic dwelling of divinity, a temple most august. He had already adorned the supercelestial region with Intelligences, infused the heavenly globes with the life of immortal souls and set the fermenting dung-heap of the inferior world teeming with every form of animal life. But when this work was done, the Divine Artificer still longed for some creature which might comprehend the meaning of so vast an achievement, which might be moved with love at its beauty and smitten with awe at its grandeur. When, consequently, all else had been completed (as both Moses and Timaeus testify), in the very last place, He bethought Himself of bringing forth man.

From “Oration on the Dignity of Man” by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

December 3, 2011

love made visible

Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. –Kahlil Gibran

From Seven Times the Sun: Guiding Your Child through the Rhythms of the Day by Shea Darian in chapter 4, “Working Wonders: Celebrating Work” (79).

November 16, 2011

the temple-haunting martlet does approve

From Psalm 84.3 (ESV):

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.

Banquo speaking before Macbeth’s castle:

This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve
By his loved mansionry that the heaven’s breath
Smells wooingly here. No jutty, frieze,
Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird
Hath made his pendant bed and procreant cradle;
Where they most breed and haunt, I have observed
The air is delicate.

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