The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, November 9th

Since the Passover of the Jews was near Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the word church mean to you? How would you define it? Has your understanding of the meaning of this word changed over time? Explain.
  2. Ezekiel thinks of God’s presence as life-giving. What do you experience as lifegiving? Why? In what ways is God life-giving?
  3. Do you think of yourself as a dwelling place for God? Why or why not? What do you think Paul would have to say on this subject?

Biblical Context

John 2: 13-22
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

Our reading from the Gospel of John begins, “Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” This sentence is typical of John’s Gospel because John often supplies the backdrop of a Jewish feast as he describes Jesus’ public ministry. John’s purpose is to teach that the old way of being in right relationship with God, through obedience to the law and through observance of Jewish feasts, has been replaced. Jesus is initiating a new spiritual order.

In addition, our understanding that Jesus’ public ministry lasted for three years is derived from the fact that John presents the backdrop of the Passover three times. The final Passover, of course, will be the Passover when Jesus is crucified at the time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered, thus becoming the new paschal lamb.

Unique to John’s Gospel is that he places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry rather than at the end. In all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) the cleansing of the temple takes place at the end of Jesus’ public ministry as he enters Jerusalem just before his passion and death (Mark 11:15-19; Matt 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-46). John alone places this scene at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, after the great sign at the wedding feast at Cana.

Jesus enters the temple area and finds commerce taking place in the name of religious observance. The oxen, sheep, and doves that were being sold were being sold for sacrifice. The money changers were present to make it more convenient for Jewish men to pay their temple tax. The temple tax was required of every Jewish male over the age of nineteen (see Exod 30:11-16). The doves were being sold so that poor people could purchase a sacrifice (Lev 12:8). Jesus drives all of this commerce out of the temple saying, ” Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” When his disciples recall the words of scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me, they are recalling the words of Psalm 69:9-10, a lament, in which the psalmist cries out:

I have become an outcast to my kin,
a stranger to my mother’s children.
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
I am scorned by those who scorn you.

John tells us that “the Jews answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ ” John’s Gospel often presents the Jews as Jesus’ adversaries, even though Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are all Jews. The reason for this is that John is writing at the end of the first century, when the Jewish community was divided over whether or not Jesus was a divine person. Those Jews who believed in Jesus’ divinity were being expelled from the synagogue by those Jews who did not believe. The expelled Jews were subject to persecution and even martyrdom because they were no long exempt from participating in Roman emperor worship.

In response to the request for a sign Jesus says, ” ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?’ ” This conversation, too, is typical of John’s Gospel. Jesus will say something that he means metaphorically. His listeners will take his words literally. This misunderstanding will give Jesus the opportunity to elaborate on his true meaning. In this instance, John explains the misunderstanding to the reader. “But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.”

Here John is teaching his end-of-the-century audience that the temple, the building that had been understood to be one of the signs of God’s covenant promises to God’s people, has been replaced by the church, the body of Christ. Remember, the actual physical temple had been destroyed in AD 70, some twenty-five years before John is writing his Gospel. The temple no longer exists. However, the fact that the temple no longer exists is not a sign that God has been unfaithful to God’s promises to love and protect the chosen people. Rather, through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, a new spiritual order has been established. In that new spiritual order the church, the body of Christ, has replaced the temple.

John makes it obvious that his whole Gospel has been written from a postresurrection point of view. He acknowledges that point of view when he says, “Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” Jesus’ resurrection was the core event that made all that had preceded it understandable.

We read this passage from John’s Gospel on the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica (also called the Church of St. John Lateran), the cathedral church of the pope, the bishop of Rome. This Basilica acts as a symbol of the worldwide body of Christ, the church. Just as the Jews believed that Yahweh dwelt in their temple, so do we believe that the risen Christ dwells in his body, the church.

Building the People

Paige Byrne Shortal

Twelve years ago I visited Rome with my parish choir. It was a privileged 10 days, singing in those ancient and venerable places: St. Peter’s Basilica; the catacombs where early Christians were buried; the churches of St. Mary Major and the Gesu; and St. John Lateran, the pope’s cathedral, the dedication of which we celebrate today.

I confess to a certain “So what?” response to this feast. Why this commemoration in every Catholic church in the world, and why is it so important that it replaces the Sunday? For us American Catholics, where it is in our blood to create anew, this is especially strange. “What has this to do with us?” St. John Lateran was the first Christian basilica, dedicated on November 9 in the year 324. Its name comes from the family who donated the land, the Laterani family, and the church is dedicated under the patronage of both St. John the Bap- tist and St. John the Evangelist. The popes lived in the palace adjoining the church until the 14th century.

This was the site of five ecumenical councils. The church is still the pope’s cathedral, not, as many assume, St. Peter’s. And, as the pope is the shepherd of the universal church, the Lateran Basilica of St. John is the cathedral church of the world. Over the doorway of the facade, the inscription reads: Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput, that is, “Mother and head of all the churches of the city and of the world.”

That is why the dedication of St. John Lateran is celebrated in parish churches in Missouri and New Brunswick and Honduras and Hyderabad and everywhere else I have Facebook friends. As Facebook is a prime example, the movement of history is to bring peoples together, not separate them. Our technology has created of our world a global village where we can be in almost instant communication with anyone on the planet. Even when Rome was remote and communication took days, it is through Rome that we connect to all Catholics everywhere. Rome’s failures are our failures. And Rome’s glories are also ours. One of those glories is that we are one people despite our native language, our race or ethnicity, our station in life. That is what this Feast of Dedication is about: building the whole people of God, across space and time, into a holy temple.

Just as the building is sacred because of the people who fill it and what they do there, so are we each created to be sacred: holy temples of the Spirit of God. As St. Paul reminds his beloved community in Corinth, we are each being formed into a dwelling place for God on earth. As there is behavior not acceptable in God’s house — witness Jesus admonishing those who would turn his father’s house into a marketplace — so there are actions and attitudes unbefitting those called to be Christ-bearers to the world.

If we are each a temple of God’s Spirit, aren’t we so much more than mere consumers or commodities? We are more than our possessions, more than our market value. Maybe it’s time for inventory, time to clean house for the Divine Guest and rid ourselves of what is not suitable for the sacred Christ-bearers we are called to be.

Let us pray for each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and pray especially today for Pope Francis, that he may continue to inspire believers everywhere to holiness, humility and humor as we witness to the love of God for this world.

Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc