Scripture Commentary: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

The Basilica of St John Lateran was dedicated by Pope Sylvester on November 9, 324.  For nearly 1700 years, it has been the place of numerous worshiping communities, church councils, Bishops of Rome (Popes), fires, earthquakes, wars, barbarians, neglect, and reconstructions!  It also has a “holy door” which is opened every 25 years to mark the beginning of the celebration of a jubilee year.  It was originally known as the Church of Our Savior. Later it was renamed for the large baptistery in honor of St. John the Baptist that is also located there. It is called the “Mother-Church” because it was the first Christian church to be publicly dedicated.  Before this, for almost 300 years, the Roman Empire had tried to wipe out Christianity through many severe persecutions. Then, in 324, Emperor Constantine granted Christians the right to worship publicly. After, Constantine’s conversion, the land and palace of the Laterini family owned by his wife, Fausta, was donated to the Bishop of Rome as his residence.  This basilica was then built and dedicated. It became the first official Christian church building. Thus, it is a fitting symbol of our freedom as Christians and the abiding presence of God’s Spirit within the Church, God’s People.

We know the church is not the building, but there is something about a holy place that draws us in, helps us feel at home and gives a sense of belonging and unity.  What do our church buildings mean to you?

1st Reading – Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12

Ezekiel was a priest, prophet, mystic, poet, visionary and – some feel – a bit deranged.  He certainly had his times of hallucinations. Yet, he was also attuned to the needs of the people of his time.  He tried to help them face their failings and sins; then he tried to shore up their hopes when despair was near.   (Celebrations, Nov. 1997, and 2003)

This is the hopeful side of Ezekiel that we see here. Although Ezekiel and his people are in exile, he offers them this vision of the temple, an idealized blueprint for the later rebuilding. Not only will this temple be filled with new life, but the river that flows from will heal the land and even turn salty ‘dead sea’ into fresh, living waters. The ‘sea’ was a symbol of chaos and evil . . . but this river of God’s presence can bring healing to all. (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

God is a river, not just a stone

God is a wild, raging rapids

And a slow,  meandering flow

God is a deep and narrow passage

And a peaceful, sandy shoal

God is the river, swimmer

So let go.                                 ~Peter Mayer

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11

With no temple or synagogue in which to convene, the early Christians met together in their homes for prayer and Eucharist.  Since most homes became too small, ‘house churches’ began to exist.  In Corinth, for example, there were at least four different house churches which Paul addressed in his letters (see I Cor. 1: 10-16).  Sometimes rivalry sprang up among these churches.  Paul‘s letters are often a call for unity, around Jesus Christ, the only foundation.  (Celebrations, Nov. 1997)

The temple imagery is pointing primarily to the place of the indwelling Spirit, not a place of worship. Christ is not only present in the reserved sacrament, but is to be vibrantly present through the Spirit in his body, the Church. Here the emphasis is on Jesus as the foundation. A foundation marks out the shape of the building to be erected. It is the task of all who come after Christ to see to it that the church keeps the shape of its original foundation. (“Scripture in Depth, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

The Gospel — John (2: 13-22)

Here in John’s gospel right after the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus

‘cleanses’ the temple at Passover time.  Both Malachi (3:14) and Zechariah (14:1-21) picture the time of the Messiah beginning with the Lord “suddenly coming to his temple to purify and to cleanse.”  Jesus obviously knew his own Jewish Scriptures; so did the writer of John’s Gospel. So unlike the other gospels (which put this cleansing just before Jesus arrest and death), John puts it right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. (Celebrations, Nov. 2003)

Jesus calls the temple “my Father’s house.” This phrase is used 27 times in John’s gospel.  In John 14:2, Jesus uses these words to refer to the kingdom of eternal life: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  What meanings do you attach to this phrase?  Later, he then refers to the Temple as the “temple of his body.”  How as a Christian do you understand this section?

Why is Jesus so angry in this gospel story? Was it just that the money changers and merchants were so conniving and selfish? Or, was it that he knew that this temple was to be a place where people could give their best in symbolic gifts to the God whose love was total and everlasting? All the noise of buying and selling, all the pretense and self-righteousness distracted people from the real God who was present in their midst. This must have broken Jesus’ heart. NO, he said. Our hearts must be the bottom line, not greed or self-indulgence. Jesus was a man of passion, a man filled with God’s passion and love. His anger is like the very wrath of God that is stirred up by our lack of response and our self-centered ways. But this wrath is meant to change us. At every Mass we have the chance to join Jesus in putting God first in our lives. (J. Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

 

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