It was tricky being a disciple, you had to be careful what you said and I know how that feels. Years ago now when I first left university I was interviewed for a job in Amsterdam, it would have suited me quite well and I progressed to the final shortlist of two - things were going fine when at the last in the meeting with the big boss there was a pause in the conversation which I decided to fill with a small remark of praise for an aspect of the job and I was immediately crushed: “Too narrow,” he said, “you are too narrow.”
And so I feel for the disciple who innocently leaving the Temple with Jesus looked around at the wonderful stones of the courtyard which Herod had considerably enlarged and filling a pause in the conversation offered a remark of praise: “Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.” and he was immediately crushed : “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.”
As ever Jesus’ words work at different levels. Firstly we might take them as literal prophecy, for we know that in 70 AD Titus the Roman laid siege to Jerusalem completely destroying the city and the Temple by fire and fury. There is nothing surprising about Jesus predicting a future event, after all he was doing so throughout his ministry but it would be surprising if that were all he was doing. The disciples ponder his words as they cross the Kidron valley to walk up Mount Olivet where they sit, I like to think unpacking their sandwiches and looking west again to the magnificent temple glinting in the sunshine. And the brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John ask what he really meant “When and what are the signs?” Jesus tells them to beware.
Now the first danger is inherent in the very metaphor of the Temple, the second is of false Messiahs, of prophets claiming they are sent, predicting the end of the world and their own glory and the third danger is of being distracted by world events, by wars and rumours of wars and indeed in our own time there is a lot of that sort of thing to worry about and it may lead some to despair but Jesus says “do not be alarmed, this is but the beginning.”
Returning to the metaphor of the Temple it is interesting to note that there are still some stones remaining on the Temple mount - the end is not come for then “not one stone will be left here.” The Temple of course was the focus of Jewish religion, thought, culture and philosophy and it seems to me that Jesus is saying to the disciples, beware, be careful magnificent as they are, this building, these stones, these practices are not important - what is important is that you believe in me.
Some years ago now, someone came to worship here at St. Margaret’s who came from another tradition. They were attached to their previous church, to their old way of being, to their old way of doing things and they would grumble to me that we did not have this or that, or did not behave quite properly here or there. One day they were talking to a senior churchman about all this and according to their own account the archbishop after listening carefully said reflectively “Yes, that may all be so - but surely God turns up doesn’t he?”
I would like you please to ponder Jesus’ message of the Temple in the coming months, notice the disciple’s easy attachment to the beautiful stones, and to be sensitive to our easy attachment to our ways of being church, to not be like me in the interview - too narrow, too narrow, and to think carefully and prayerfully about what it is that really matters:
That God turns up and we are here to worship only Him.