“Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren,
I would not have you ignorant”
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and cleanses the temple of “those who bought and sold therein”. St. Paul instructs the Corinthians of the spiritual gifts with which they have been blessed. The Collect prays that God’s merciful ears may “be open to the prayers of thy humble servant and that they may obtain their petition make them to ask such things as shall please thee”. Such are the bare elements of today’s propers. They are profoundly connected.
Because Jesus wept, Paul must instruct and the Collect must pray. The Jerusalem over which Jesus wept is the fallen Jerusalem of our souls, the Corinthian brethren are ourselves under instruction and “thy humble servants”, the “they” of the Collect are equally “we”; the “them” is “us”.
Christ approaches Jerusalem, the city of peace. His approach is a royal progress; the disciples exalt with joy. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”. And not only themselves but the whole creation is understood to exalt with joy at the coming of her king to his royal city, the city of God.
And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples’. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent the very stones would cry out’.
Sometimes it seems that the only voices of witness and testimony to the glory of God are the temples, our churches, the very buildings in the eloquence of their being. And so the gospel continues in this morning’s reading: “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it”. Christ enters Jerusalem weeping.
Why does Christ weep? Jerusalem is the city of peace, yes, but it is also the city of his passion. Ultimately, we must learn that, because of our ignorance, wilful and wicked, there can be no peace without the passion. No passion. No peace. Jerusalem is the city of his passion because Jerusalem has failed to recognise the things that belong to her peace. Jerusalem has failed to acknowledge the good things of her life as the gifts of God.. She has failed to recognise even the gift of God’s own presence. “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes”.
Concerning the gifts of God and the gift of God himself in Jesus Christ, Jerusalem is ignorant. Such ignorance is, really, a wilful ignorance. For not to acknowledge a gift as a gift is a refusal to recognise that the goodness of something comes from the source of all goodness, God. It perverts and twists to other ends and purpose what has been given to us. The gospel account provides a concrete instance of this ignorance of the gift and the perversion of it in the story of the cleansing of the temple.
Why the temple? Because the temple was the gift of God’s presence in the midst of Jerusalem. The temple was given in the time of peace, during the reign of Solomon, not during the reign of David, a time of war. The temple was given that the people of Israel might worship God, finding in him their peace and unity, acknowledging him as the source of all good things.
The temple was given to be a house of prayer. Prayer acknowledges God as our highest good. Prayer seeks the union of our wills with God’s will, the conforming of our wills to the will of God revealed and declared in his Word. The prophet Isaiah proclaims that God’s “house shall be called the house of prayer for all peoples”, signifying something of the greater vocation of Israel, to be the instrument of God for the redemption of all humanity.
The perversion of this purpose is seen in the perversion of the temple itself as lamented by the prophet Jeremiah. The temple, he says, has been made “a den of thieves”. Christ recalls both these passages: the one from Isaiah, “my house is the house of prayer”; and the one from Jeremiah, “but ye have made it a den of thieves”. He acknowledges both its proper use and its misuse.
The misuse is twofold: first, and most simply, the temple is not a market-place. Its purpose is not the exchange of material goods, the buying and selling of goods and services. It does not exist for the pursuit of worldly ends. Secondly, the temple in its misuse is called “a den of thieves”. Just as thieves pervert, twist and confuse the relation of “mine and thine”, the distinctions of property, and by extension, the distinction between gift and giver, so there is a misuse of prayer when we seek to conform God’s will to our wills, to buy and sell the good gifts of God for our own ends and purposes rather than employ them in his service. In short there is a misuse of prayer and the house of prayer whenever we seek to make God the servant of our desires rather than seeking to be the servants of his will.
Christ weeps because Jerusalem has neglected the gifts of God. That willful neglect is the cause of his passion. Our sins are always about the misuse of the good things of God.
The account of the cleansing of the temple in three of the gospels coincides with Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. The event concerns the fulfillment of the mission of Christ - the redemption of humanity. It coincides, in other words, with the establishment of the new and greater temple, one not built of human hands, the resurrected body of Christ. St. John connects the cleansing and destruction of the temple with Christ’s anticipation of his own death and resurrection.
Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up’. The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he spoke of the temple of his body.
By Christ’s passion and through our baptism into his death and resurrection, we are made members of the Body of Christ. We become ourselves temples of his Holy Spirit. Thus, St. Paul would not have us ignorant concerning the spiritual gifts that have been given to us through the temple of Christ’s body. They are the gifts of our recreation, the gifts of our restoration through the passion of Christ. The instruction is threefold.
First, he teaches that diverse abilities and skills are all gifts that have been given by the same hand, namely, God the Holy Spirit. “Now there are diversities of gifts..., diversities of ministrations..., and diversities of operations..., but it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God, who worketh all in all”, the same Spirit, too, by which we acknowledge “Jesus as Lord”. We are not our own. We are God’s through Christ. Our abilities, our talents, are gifts given to us at the hand of God the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, he teaches that these gifts are bestowed for a purpose. These gifts “are the manifestations of the Spirit given to every one”. They are intended for the benefit of the whole body mystical. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every one for the common good” - the good of the whole body of Christ.
Thirdly, he teaches that there is a great diversity of gifts which in their diversity offer a marvellous reflection of the unity and the majesty of God just as the rich diversity of the colours of the spectrum are but the manifestation of a single beam of pure light passing through a glass prism.
We have different talents, different abilities, but they are all gifts of the self-same Spirit of the Father and the Son. Our task is always to seek the discerning of the gifts that in our use of them the Spirit may be manifest in us through the building up of the common good, the building up of the body of Christ. Prayer has the greatest significance in all of this because it is through prayer that we seek God’s will and seek the proper use of God’s gifts in us. Our lives are to be lives of prayer in the good use of the gifts which God has given us. Our churches are the temples in which we learn about how we are temples of the Holy Spirit with gifts and talents to be used to the praise and glory of God.
About such things, Paul would not have us ignorant even as Jesus would not have us ignorant about the time of his visitation in us. Then there might be peace in our souls, in our churches, in our communities and in our world. Then Jesus would not weep but rejoice in us, in our recognition of the spiritual realities of our world and day as seen in him, in his word and in his life in us. For the recognition of the spiritual gifts in our lives is the recognition of Christ in our lives and our lives in him.
“Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren,
I would not have you ignorant”
Fr Ed Bakker