NOT ONE STONE LEFT UPON ANOTHER – SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT 2015

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’                                                                                                                                                   Mark 13:1,2

In St Luke’s version of this saying, he speaks of the beautiful adornments and gifts which made the Temple so impressive. Anyone who has visited Paris will know all about large stones and beautiful buildings. And somewhere in the world there is an enemy saying “not one stone will be left upon another”.

Facebook is of course covered with posts expressing sympathy and solidarity with the people of Paris. One of them says, “Thank you for #prayforparis, but we don’t need more religion. Our faith goes to Music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and joy! #parisisaboutLife.” And somewhere in the world there is an enemy who looks with contempt upon these human and humane delights and says “All will be thrown down”.

It is understandable, if sad, that “religion” has come to mean death rather than life. It is sad that the great Islamic prayer Allah akbar – God is greater – has come to represent the smallness of narrow minds and callous hearts.

Much as we love Paris, it is not heaven. Alongside the wonderful architecture and dazzling fashion and gourmet banquets there is the underworld of homeless beggars, sleeping over the Metro gratings for warmth. St-Denis, site of the royal burial-church where gothic architecture was invented, home of the Stade de France where so many died on Friday, is a district where many immigrants live in poverty. And where there is poverty, injustice and hopelessness, sooner or later there will be hatred and violence.

In Jesus’ day, the gold and marble of the Temple was as much to advertise the power of Herod and the authority of Rome, as to express the holiness of the place and the devotion of the nation. The big stones were intended to impress, and to oppress. Jesus’ prophecy of destruction is God’s judgement on injustice. The “house of prayer” has become the “den of thieves”. And God promises, to all who build structures to oppress and destroy their fellow-men and women, that “Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down”. The cruelty and destructiveness of ISIS stands under God’s just condemnation. So too does the greed and lust for power of other nations.

In the collection of Jewish teachings known as the Talmud, there is a tradition about the destruction of the Temple, first by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC, and then by the Romans in AD 70. Why was the first temple destroyed? Because, said the rabbis, the nation was full of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed. But why was the second temple destroyed, at a time when many of the people were faithful to the Torah and kept the commandments and did good deeds? Because, said the rabbis, many people hated others without cause.

You could argue that last Friday’s events – and others like them – give us plenty of cause to hate. Fear and distrust threaten to overwhelm us and to meet cruelty with cruelty. We must not give in to the temptation to hate immigrants or Muslims in general, for that would truly give the victory to evil. Instead we must work steadily and faithfully to “do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God”, and with all others who seek to do the same.

Cardinal André Vingt-trois, the archbishop of Paris, writes:

Faced with human violence, may we be able to receive the grace of a steady heart without hatred…   Let us ask for the grace to be peacemakers. We need never despair of peace, if we build justice.

The stones of justice and goodness are even larger and more beautiful, and build a city and temple that will never be overthrown.

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. (Psalm 130)

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