People’s Hearts Are God’s Homes
(or, We Carry God’s Spirit Within Us)
Today, 28 October, is the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, for many Christians. Simon and Jude were Apostles. They lived with Jesus and traveled with him.
The Responsorial Psalm for today is a passage from Psalm 19, verses 2–5, which begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God….” This declaration is received on earth, where people continue to share and spread that message in new, loving, and creative ways.
The Gospel is from Chapter 6 of Luke’s Gospel, right before the Sermon on the Plain. It is the passage in which Jesus picks his 12 Apostles, and goes well with today’s feast.
However, what I would like to focus on is the First Reading. In the book that contains the Mass readings, in the place of the first reading, there is the instruction, “See the Common of the Dedication of a Church (p. 2415), for First Reading Eph 2:19-22.”
And I thought, “Well that’s fascinating.” Here we are celebrating 2 important saints of the Church, and the first reading is from one of Paul’s letters, a text that is often used for the dedication of a Church building. What is the connection between a person and a building?
Here too Paul helps us to see. He says that each person is the temple of God, and each person is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Each person is precious in God’s eyes. And hopefully in our eyes too. Paul lifts the metaphor of “Church” to a new level. He says that people are the Body of Christ, and that the Body of Christ is the Church. So in a very real way, people are the Church. Buildings are often beautiful, but the people inside them are the real temples, the real holy places. People are holy.
Here is the reading from Ephesians:
“Brothers and sisters: you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
This letter to the Church in Ephesus was probably written not by Paul himself, but by his friends shortly after Paul’s life. Scholars largely agree in this theory. These friends of his knew his teaching and thinking quite deeply.
Today’s passage from Ephesians is one of many texts in the Pauline corpus that discuss the merging of “the human person” with the “temple of God.”
The Greek text here is revelatory. In Greek, the word “house” is “oikos.” From this word comes “economics,” which originally referred to the good stewardship and management of the “things of the house.” Today, “economics” has a wider sense, and refers to how people caringly distribute the amazing bounty of the earth so that all people may live lives of joy and meaning.
Also, it is important to know that the ancient Israelites referred to the 2 temples of Jerusalem as the “house,” the “beit.” So whenever Paul is discussing the house or the building, this important theological issue is there: The presence of God, the Shekinah, has moved. The Spirit of God has moved from a constructed building to Humanity itself. In Luke 2, the Prophetess Anna and the virtuous Simeon represent the 2nd temple building “come to life” as it were. Luke employs daring personification light years ahead of its time. Anna and Simeon welcome the Holy Family into the temple. Their mission has been successful. They have helped prepare humanity to reach the point in our development where we can be, ourselves, the temple of God. Where we ourselves move and live more closely with the Holy Spirit.
After this meeting, Simeon sings the “Nunc Dimittis,” which Christians have been singing at the very end of the day for 2000 years. Simeon was acknowledging to God that his work was done, and that he was ready to meet God. It is the swan song of each day, and of the old stone temple. The temple’s great work was finished. A few decades later, the stone temple would end its physical existence.
In this brief passage from Ephesians, Greek cognates of the word “house” appear an astounding five (5) times. Again, there is the theme of the transfer of the Dwelling Place of God from a building to Humanity itself. This also makes good evolutionary sense.
Here again is the passage from Ephesians, with the added Greek words:
“Brothers and sisters: you are no longer strangers and sojourners (“paroikoi,” or “outside-the-homers,”) but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household (oikeioi) of God, built (“epOIKOdomethentes,” or “being-on-home-builded”) upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure (oikodome) is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together (sunOIKOdemeisthe, or “are-being-together-home-builded”) into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Humanity is the house of God. More than that, the fact that God is among us is actually transforming Humanity in truly radical ways. The passage that says, “Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord,” could be more literally rendered, “the (human) home-building is-being-together-connected and is growing.” Humanity is connecting with each other more deeply than ever before, despite some of the chaos in our world today. Also, this connection among humanity has new modalities. And this is wonderful news for every person on Earth.
One can see why this reading has been chosen for the liturgy that celebrates two Apostles of this good news.