Jerusalem, the chief religious and political center of ancient (and modern) Israel, exerts a powerful effect on the psyche of the Jewish people. The city serves as an archetypal image of the Kingdom of God for both Jews and Christians. While the ancient walled city itself is small, it is strategically located and is rife with meaning as it was the home of the temple, the seat of the Ark of the Covenant.
Having been destroyed by the Babylon and, at the time of Jesus, virtually entirely rebuilt by Herod the Great, Jerusalem stands as a beacon to Jews from throughout the world. The expression, “Next year in Jerusalem,” is the prayer to this day for those Jews who celebrate Passover outside of the Promised Land. The later Jewish prophets assert that all nations will stream towards Jerusalem to come to worship the Living God. The city becomes a “light to the nations” and hence carries important apocalyptic symbolism.
Through the Easter Season we have been hearing from the Book of Revelation in the Second Reading. The images of the myriad of peoples standing before the throne of God and the hope and promise of salvation have been a central theme these past few weeks.
The hope of a perfect and idealized Jerusalem gets even stronger after the Romans destroy the city and the Temple in 70 AD. While the political and religious hopes of both the Jews and Christians seem to have been dashed at that point, the promise of restoration lies at the core of their theological reflection.
It is here, though, that we see Judaism and Christianity evolve separately. For the Jews, the hope of a restored Jerusalem happens in real time. The city needs to be reconstructed and the Temple rebuilt. Within the Christian framework that is not necessary. The Christians do not put their hopes on the actual city itself but, rather, on what it symbolizes.
Jerusalem was the city of the throne of God. The Temple stood at the very heart of the city as the continual sign of God’s presence with the people. It is to the Temple where the Jews would come to make sacrificial offering to God for the forgiveness of their sins and as thanksgiving oblations.
However, as we see with the struggle of the early Church in its relationship to the Jewish Law in the First Reading, we get a hint of how differently the Christians will understand their obligations and relationship to God than do the Jews.
For the Christian the Temple is replaced by Jesus. The Law of Moses itself became irrelevant to the dispensation of salvation as offered in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Ccross. No longer do we need a Temple in which we can offer sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins or to praise God for the many blessings bestowed upon us. No longer do we need to carefully observe the mandates of the 613 Laws of Moses. Now, through the grace of Jesus’ Paschal Sacrifice, the grace of forgiveness is extended to us all.
Paul may be the first of the apostles to recognize that the old form of worship and its demands were no longer necessary to for the baptized. We see in the Acts that his refusal to demand observance of the Mosaic Law was at first highly controversial. His decision posed a real threat to the unity of the developing church. After explaining his rationale to the other apostles they were convinced of the rightness of his actions, and the Church lifted this burden from all people.
For the Christian, the city of Jerusalem is restored, not in a geopolitical sense, but in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It is not necessary that a new Temple stand on Zion in order for the promise of God to be fulfilled. Jesus is the Temple, the one whose presence among gives light to all peoples and who is the face of God among all the peoples of the earth.
It is the peace of the Kingdom of God and not the political or religious restoration of Jerusalem which is the focus of these readings and of our hope: sharing in eternal life with Christ.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish and School, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]