In the year 70 the Roman General, and future Emperor, Titus attacked the city of Jerusalem. Since the year 66 it had been taken from the Romans and the Jewish leaders and held by groups of religious zealots. Titus surrounded the city with 3 crack Legions. He first destroyed, after a few months, two sets of walls, 3rd and 2nd walls of the city. What was left then was the Temple and the Upper and lower parts of the city, still held by the city’s leaders. The Romans tried to negotiate a peace, but the defenders shot the negotiator with an arrow. Titus then surrounded this seeming impregnable part of the city, laying siege to it, hoping to starve the people into surrender. Eventually he was able to enter the inner city by a secret passage and open the gates. His soldiers set fire to the temple, although he claimed this was never his purpose, his purpose had been to preserve the temple and use it for the honour of the Roman Gods. He put to the sword the inhabitants, all the inhabitants. The historian Josephus who witnessed these events, estimated that 1.1 million had been put to death and 97000 were enslaved.
If you go to Rome the arch of Titus close by the Coliseum celebrates the victory. Images show the slaves brought back to Rome and the treasures from the temple being carried back in procession.
In the light of the catastrophic event of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Jewish religious authorities, what was left of them, were said to have gathered together to make certain decisions at a Council called Jamnia. To gather up what was left, to try to make sense of the destruction and devastation that had been visited on them. What was to be seen as the revelation of the old testament, the books that were accepted and Jewish practices wa codified. It was also the occasion in which the Christians who were regarded to be trouble-makers were to be removed from the synagogues and regarded as outcasts.
Most of the Gospels are written in the light of this event, especially the Gospel of John. The reference to the slap in the face – if someone slaps you on the cheek offer him the other – is a reference to this. The formal expulsion from the synagogue was signified by the elder slapping you on the face.
The loss of Jerusalem and especially the loss of the Temple was a catastrophic event for the people of the Old Testament. Jerusalem meant everything to them as did the Temple. Here God had promised them a city to dwell in, here they had built him a temple where he could dwell in their midst. The city was built on a rock that they thought couldn’t be shaken. The temple was the centre of their faith, its magnificence and its permanence meant everything to them. With its removal – what was left? Had God abandoned them?
The Gospels are written in the light of this catastrophic event, some would say because of this event, to state our case, to explain why we are here. We hear in the Gospels the reaction to the back wash of of these events, their expulsion from the synagogue. Their dispute with their fellow Jews.
Jesus will prophesy the destruction of the temple and the fact that he will raise it up in 3 days, something rightly the people don’t understand and why should they? The narrator of the Gospel tells us it is his body that he is speaking of. The temple becomes an important place it is where Jesus is travelling, it is where he is going to be tested, it will be the climax of everything.
After its destruction it still is on the mind of the Christians, St John speaks of his vision of a new Jerusalem and no temple, no need for a temple because the cityis lit up by the light of the lamb of on the throne.
With the absence of the Temple, people began to ask what was left. What could be believed. What were they to put their trust in.
Here’s the rub: the response of the Christians in. the new testament we hear in this passage. Don’t look for God’s presence any longer in the Temple in a building of stone and bricks but look for it within you, where God now dwells through the Holy Spirit in you.
Just like he promised to come and dwell among us, now he has made his home with you. So make your home with him, just as he has made his home with you. And to make that home secure and liveable, keep the commandments, the way of life that he has given us, the teachings he has taught you.
What a simple thing this is. People look for God all over the place, but here he is, as these early Christians had come to believe, dwelling within us, living in us, making his home with us. He came to make his home among us, not just on earth, not just at Nazareth, but straight here into our hearts.
We don’t have to climb mountains, or travel into space or dive deep down into the waters to find him. He is here in our hearts, he has come to live in us. And our life, as the passage reminds us, is to listen to his voice within us, through the Holy Spirit, teaching us and reminding us of what is important.
What a thought that God lives in us. Deep in our heart and in our being. We are united with him and he is united to us. He is not looking for a building but he is looking to rest in our heart.
We have always known this, some of the simplest prayers that we said as children expressed this sentiment, we asked himto come and live in us. To be with us. To rest with us. To remain in us. To dwell in us. How could we have forgotten this.
It’s the very mystery of Christ’s coming on earth that he wants to be within us. Did he not come to a humble dwelling? Did he not live in the son of Mary? Did he not simply want to come and be with us? The master becomes the servant. The lord becomes the one who serves us.
Our small minds cannot fathom this great mystery that he who is everything would want to come and live in us, be with us, dwell with us, shelter with us. Why would he want to do this: for gain, what could we give him? For something that he doesn’t have, what does he not have? The only reason is for love and because of his mercy and kindness he does it.