This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
1 Kings 7:51-8:21
51 Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the Lord was finished. Solomon brought in the things that his father David had dedicated, the silver, the gold, and the vessels, and stored them in the treasuries of the house of the Lord.
8Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 2All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. 3And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. 4So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. 5King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. 6Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 7For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 8The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. 9There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
12 Then Solomon said,
‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
13 I have built you an exalted house,
a place for you to dwell in for ever.’
14 Then the king turned round and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. 15He said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David, saying, 16“Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.” 17My father David had it in mind to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 18But the Lord said to my father David, “You did well to consider building a house for my name; 19nevertheless, you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.” 20Now the Lord has upheld the promise that he made; for I have risen in the place of my father David; I sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 21There I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.’
There are hugely important historical questions about this narrative-such as whether indeed this temple ever existed-but clearly the most important issue is the tradition passed on by those who framed the narrative and edited it. Perhaps it assumed its final form in the 2nd century before Christ. Clearly by that time the tradition focuses on the temple of that era, emphasising the antiquity of temple worship, its link with the Davidic monarchy and with holy wisdom, and the peculiar nature of its holy objects, which may or may not still have been in the temple at that time. The elaborate house is for the Lord, who however does not dwell there but graces it at times with his “presence” in a cloud which prevents anything being seen. At the heart of this house is the ark which sits under the wings of the cherubim. Then we are told, there was nothing in the ark-except the two tablets of stone bearing the Lord’s commands. These arrangements a) protect the mystery of the Lord who cannot be seen or imaged but is not simply absent. He is present as the incomprehensible One who freely chooses to reveal his love for Israel; and b) insist that the heart of Jewish faith is not a religious experience but obedience to God’s commands: there was nothing in the ark except the stone tablets. Christian believers can be reminded of Jesus’ words, “Not those who call me Lord, Lord, but those who do the will of my father…”There’s no point in religion if it doesn’t, for example, stop us killing.
43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ 45So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. 46Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ 50All of them deserted him and fled.
51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
Power always has to demonise its victim, hence the show of thuggish strength with which the religious establishment achieves the arrest of a nonviolent man. Jesus calmly points out how ridiculous their behaviour is. Treachery also wears a disguise: the kiss of Judas is only a sharp example of the treachery of all the disciples who leave Jesus to his fate. The young man who escapes naked is a symbol of all the “followers of Jesus” whose cowardice is exposed by his arrest. The gospel writers are at pains to show that Jesus tackled the forces of darkness alone. He stands with all the victims of violent men and women from murdered Abel to the mercenary killers summarily executed in Libya yesterday. How do we control the brutalities of power without violence? That’s a good question for disciples of Jesus to keep asking.