Sunday, May 31, 2009

10-12-2008: 28th Ordinary Time (A)

Isaiah 25:6-10/Psalm 23/Philippians 4:12-14,19-20/Matthew 22:1-14
Demonstrative pronouns are meant to catch your eye, like in today’s first reading when the English translator of Isaiah repeatedly and poetically uses the demonstrative pronoun for emphasis’ sake: “On that day God will say; on this mountain he will provide; on this mountain he will destroy; on this mountain he will rest…” It works, that use of demonstratives, and sparks an interest in geography of all things. The reader wants to know which mountain is this mountain.

Mount Moriah is a good possibility where legend has it Adam himself was buried after living a long life east of Eden. Moriah is the mount on which Abraham sought to sacrifice Isaac (one wonders if Isaac had recurring nightmares about that place). Moriah is also the place from where Mohammad is said to have ascended to Heaven. In the seventh century, Muslims built the Dome of the Rock over that alleged port of departure. And, most significantly, it is the place on which the Jews built, and rebuilt, the Temple -- wherein the Holy of Holies was situated, a veiled room where the Ark of the Covenant resided and the glory of the Almighty was said to rest.

If you have ever visited Jerusalem you might have noticed a rather large sign written in several languages forbidding entrance onto the Temple Mount – you read it as you pass underneath in explicit defiance of the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem’s prohibition. Observant Jews obey the prohibition, however, and choose to pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall of the Temple Mount -- the closest they can come to the divine presence, or at least its residue, without accidentally desecrating it by coming so near. (Since no one knows the exact location of where the Temple stood before the Romans destroyed it in 70AD, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount is the closest but “safest” place you may stand without accidentally committing an act of desecration). Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (observed by Jews this past week) was the one day of the year, in Temple times, when the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies and he alone permitted to utter the sacred name of the Almighty. It’s interesting to note that Pope Benedict has recently forbidden the utterance of the personal name of God during Catholic liturgies. The prohibition affects the singing of certain hymns and reading aloud from the Jerusalem Bible which, oddly, never substituted the term “Lord” for the Tetragrammaton.

The Temple Mount is a huge area on which the Temple itself occupied only a small percentage of space. One could argue that even an observant Jew might venture onto the Temple Mount without accidentally desecrating the place where the Holy of Holies was located. For example, he could walk the perimeter of the Mount relatively certain he would not be transgressing that invisible line separating the sacred and the profane. But he would rather play it safe, no doubt remembering the biblical accounts of those who touched the Ark of the Covenant (whether by intention or accident) and were immediately struck down by the Almighty.

Safeguarding the sacred by creating a wide parameter of space, a buffer zone so to speak, between the human and divine, between creature and creator, is a common practice among religions. But Christianity, that religion of Incarnation, invites us to cross that invisible but formidable barrier between sacred and profane, reminding us “the veil has been torn” and, through Christ, our very humanity has been divinized. We are no illegal aliens transgressing divine soil, but immigrants -- documented by baptism -- approaching that Holy of Holies; sojourners, in search of a long-lost home. The geography which beckons, however, is not the now built-over slopes of Mount Moriah but, demonstratively, that sacred space within -- that unexplored and mysterious terrain of this human heart wherein calling God by his name is not nearly as important as hearing him call us by ours.

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