The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are chosen to keep my thinking real:
Ephesians 2:12-22 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
At that time you had no Messiah. You were estranged from the national life of Isra’el. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise. You were in this world without hope and without God.
13 But now, you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood. 14 For he himself is our peace — he has made us both one and has broken down the barrier wall which divided us 15 by destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances. He did this in order to create in union with himself from the two groups a single new humanity and thus make peace,1and in
order to reconcile to God both in a single body by being executed on a stake as a criminal and thus in himself killing that enmity.
17 Also, when he came, he announced as Good News peace to you far off and peace to those nearby,[a] 18 news that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
19 So then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers. On the contrary, you are fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s family. 20 You have been built on the foundation of the emissaries and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Jesus the Messiah himself. 21 In union with him the whole building is held together, and it is growing into a holy temple in union with the Lord. 22 Yes, in union with him, you yourselves are being built together into a spiritual dwelling-place for God!
There are two images here of Jesus’ death on the cross. The first is its depiction as “blood” that is, as a sacrificial offering wihich re-unites people with God. Jesus offers to God the faithful obedience which Israel has failed to offer and which costs him his life. God accepts him and all who identify themselves with him. This sacrificial logic is foreign to us but would be well understood by the Ephesians.
The send image is of Jesus’ crucified body breaking down the dividing wall (there was such a wall in the Temple) between Jews and Gentiles. This strange and violent image arises from the fact that Jesus was at one and the same time a JEW and condemned by the Jewish Torah as GENTILES were; a man UNDER TORAH like Jews, yet pushed OUTSIDE TORAH like Gentiles. By being as it were both Jew and Gentile, insider and outsider, Jesus the crucified Messiah represents one single humanity under God. The ancient division of Jew and Gentile has been abolished on his cross.
This is a profound understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus as the place of human unity: all human beungs put him there; all human beings are forgiven there; all human beings are lifted from there into a new humanity. Although the division between Jew and Gentile no longer seems as important as it did to Paul, his message that no human privilege counts in the face of the cross of Jesus Messiah remains relevant. Rich people have there no advantage over poor people, decent people have no advantage over criminals, straight people have no advantage over LGBT people; all are in the wrong and must recognise their wrongness, confident that God accepts them as his children along with Jesus and raises them up to new life with him.
The image of the community of believers as a temple allows Paul to re-interpret one of the great themes of his Jewish faith. The temple in Jerusalem was the place which bore God’s name; there God heard the prayers of the faithful and received their sacrifices; there he dwelt in his shekinah, his glory. For those who trust Jesus Messiah, Paul says, God has made a new temple: it is the community of believers united in the Messiah. It does not exclude its Jeiwsh inheritance, indeed God’s messengers and prophets are its foundation; but its cornerstone, the One who holds it together, is Jesus Messiah, who enables it to grow (It’s a living temple not a pile of stone!) so that God’s spirit may happily take up residence within it.
Again we can see how old elements of religion, Torah and Temple, are transformed by Paul into Spirit and Community which require none of the trappings of religion. This remains a troublesome understanding. Try telling, as I’ve had to do, a congregation of the Church of Scotland that its building is a mere pile of stones now surplus to requirements or even that disabled people are more important than pews, and you’re likely to find yourself less popular than a politician. Christian institutions love to turn the clock back. The holy community has become a religion again; church meeting places have become sacred again; the word-made-flesh has become a Word again; the commuity leaders have become priests again; Christianity has become a faith tradition rather than an experiment in new humanity.
Jesus said to his disciples:
Jesus and his first fiollowers believed that they were living in the “last days” of the old world and that God would soon bring it to an end and start a new world. Certainly the first Christians awaited the return of Jesus Messiah in the power of God. Jesus himself however taught that any such “day” was beyond human knowledege and that before it arrived faithful people could find him in their least important neighbour. Because his presence there woud be undramatic many people would ignore him: their lamp of faith owuld have gone out, their compassion would have fallen asleep. Stay awake, Jesus urges, and you’ll find that, as always, I am the one who serves you. The mystery of Jesus’ presence in the mutual service of human beings is what Paul means by a “holy temple in union with the Lord.”