Column: Jesus’ ‘temple’ warning echoes prophets of old

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

A temple might look like an appropriate spot to deliver a sermon. After all, it’s a religious place. People gather there to pray, so an audience is at hand, ready to listen to a talk about faith.

Several times in the Bible, we encounter accounts of the prophets preaching in the temple. Significantly, they take that a step further. The temple serves not only as the location for their discourse; it also provides the subject matter.

For example, in the temple at Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah preached his so-called temple sermon. He castigates the people for their sins, and warns them that their worship in the temple will not save them if they do not reform: “Put not your trust in the deceitful words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord!’”(Jer 7:4). Jeremiah predicts that God will destroy the temple of Jerusalem, just as God destroyed the temple of Shiloh: “I will do to this house named after me, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave you and your fathers, just as I did to Shiloh” (Jer 7:14).

Twenty-two years later, in 587 B.C., these words came true, when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and burned it to the ground.

Similarly, the prophet Amos traveled to Bethel to preach in the temple there. Once again, he cautioned the people about the future destruction of the temple, in punishment for their sins. It was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 B.C.

These accounts of prophets preaching in temples and about temples provide the background for Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 21:5-19. Jesus is standing outside the temple in Jerusalem, where he is giving a homily.

The temple itself serves as the topic of his homily. The admiring observations of some of the onlookers trigger Jesus’ remarks.

Jesus alerts them that the beautiful temple will eventually fall into ruin. The question arises as to when this will take place. Jesus then answers with a prophecy concerning impending disasters.

The way that Luke’s Gospel presents the words of Jesus suggests that Jesus’ prophecy is focusing upon the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place about 40 years later in the year 70. The destruction of Jerusalem also entailed the temple’s destruction. Since all this would have taken place by the time that Luke wrote the Gospel, its inclusion would have vindicated Jesus as a prophet whose words came true.

The basically same prophecy also appears in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. But those Gospels broaden the scope of the prophecy to include not only the destruction of Jerusalem, but also the end of the world.

In contrast, Luke focuses the attention upon the temple. He edits out material that would widen the focus to imply the end of the world, rather than the end of Jerusalem.

As the prophets did before him, Jesus warns that the people’s sins will lead to the temple’s destruction. His warning reminds us that the things of this world are passing away. Only the things of God last forever.

Father Stubbs is the pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish, Lansing.

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