This weekend’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the Jerusalem temple. A person must understand the layout of the temple in order to see what was happening in this event. The temple sat on the top of Mt. Zion, and it is thought to have covered about thirty acres of land. The temple consisted of two parts, the temple building itself and the temple precincts or courtyards. The Greek language has two different words to distinguish which is meant.
1. The temple building (naos) was a small ornate structure which sat in the center of the temple property. It was called the Holy Place or Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter its walls, and he could enter only once during the year, on the Day of Atonement.
2. The temple precincts (hieron) were four courtyards that surrounded the temple building, each decreasing in their importance to the Jewish mind. It is important to know that great walls separated the courts from each other.
A. First, there was the Court of the Priests. Only the priests were allowed to enter this court. Within this courtyard stood the great furnishings, of worship; the Altar of Burnt Offering, the Bronze Wash Basin, the Seven Branched Lampstand, the Altar of Incense, and the Table of Showbread.
B. Second, there was the Court of the Israelites. This was a huge courtyard where Jewish worshippers met together for join services on the great feast days. It was also where worshippers handed over their sacrifices to the priests.
C. Third, there was the Court of the Women. Women were usually limited to this area except for joint worship with men. They could, however, enter the Court of the Israelites when they came to make a sacrifice or worship in a joint assembly on a great feast day.
D. Last, there was the Court of the Gentiles. It covered a vast space, surrounding all the other courtyards, and was the place of worship for all Gentile converts to Judaism.
Two facts need to be noted about the Court of the Gentiles.
It was the courtyard farthest removed from the center of worship, the Most Holy place, which represented God’s very presence. A high wall separated the Court of the Gentiles from the other courts, disallowing any Gentile a closer approach into God’s presence. In fact, there were tablets hanging all around the wall threatening death to any Gentile who went beyond their own courtyard or center of worship.
The Court of the Gentiles was the most corrupt. That prompted Jesus to say, ‘I will destroy this old temple’, I will destroy this temple which has become corrupt. Become a place of sin, a ‘den of thieves.’ And I will replace it with a new one. What he’s talking about is the temple of his own body. What Jesus is saying, “I am God’s dwelling place among you, I am the new Temple, my body is now the sacred dwelling place of God.He is declaring and creating this new temple of his body, the temple of the Church.
Today, the theme of water connects our Scripture passages from Exodus and the Gospel from St. John the Evangelist. The ancient Israelites grumble at Moses for bringing them and their livestock into the desert wilderness to die of thirst. God answers Moses’ cry by miraculously producing life-giving water from the rock, symbolic of the sacrament of Baptism. In the Gospel, at Jacob’s well, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman. He tells her about the “living water” He can give for eternal life, which is not the same water found in the well. Jesus admonishes her: If you knew the gift of God. The Samaritan woman undergoes a conversion experience in which she brings others to Christ. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Roman community, reminds us of God’s outpouring love for us, even though we are sinners. Jesus’ gift of eternal life is for Jew and Gentile alike, for all faithful stewards who strive for holiness by following His teachings to deepen their love for Him. During Lent, pray the Stations of the Cross to draw closer to our Lord and Savior.