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The Temple of God

- Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Almost every world religion has set aside a place as God’s dwelling place.  Temples are sacred spaces in which we can encounter the divine.  The Christian Scriptures tell us that God dwells among the people; even so, we have churches and places of worship where we reserve the consecrated hosts which we believe is the real presence of Jesus Christ.  As human beings, we need such places.  We are creatures who are hemmed in by our language, forced to dwell in time and place.  God, however, is timeless and needs no space in which to dwell.  God’s spirit simply is without being confined by time or space.

Because we believe that God dwells with the people, we are quick to take up the language of St. Paul when he declares: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  (I Corinthians 3:16)  However, we tend to misinterpret this line from his first Letter to the Corinthians, a misinterpretation that occurs because of the limits of our language.  While most languages distinguish between the singular and plural forms of the pronoun “you,” English does not.  In this instance, the Greek “you” is plural.  So Paul is saying that we are the temple of God; in other words, the community, the Church, the assembled people is God’s temple. 

This is important when we remember the context of St. Paul’s letter.  He is writing to a community which is being fragmented by various factions in the assembly.  As we have been reading from this letter, we have run across those who set themselves apart based upon by whom they were baptized.  We have heard St. Paul chide those who claim they are “more mature,” “more wise.”  In addition we have listened as St. Paul has reminded them that they were putting on airs, forgetting whence they came.  This is a community in trouble because factions or cliques have formed.

In today’s reading, St. Paul is blunt when he says that such thinking destroys the Temple of God, destroys the very community in which God dwells.  He says in no uncertain terms that God will destroy those who destroy the community.  He has harsh words for those who consider themselves wise while looking upon others as fools.  He tells those who would boast about themselves that they are headed for destruction.  Their foolish pride will lead to their demise.

St. Paul’s letters all predate the Gospels.  Yet here we see clearly one of the most prominent themes of the Gospels already part of Christian spirituality; namely, the reversal theme.  Those who place themselves ahead of others will end up being last.

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