‘You got it all wrong.’
This uncomfortable notion turned out to be my main take-away (and perhaps the greatest blessing) of our visit a few months back to the Tel Arad National Park in Israel.
Never heard of Tel Arad? Neither had I, until our pilgrimage bus pulled up to the site – seemingly in the middle of nowhere – about an hour and a half south of Jerusalem.
What struck me was how modest and simple this worship space was. It offered nothing like the scale and grandeur of Herod’s celebrated ‘Second Temple’ in Jerusalem – the one destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
That was particularly true of the Holy of Holies at Tel Arad – the exact spot where God was said to reveal God’s Self to the high priest. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how small the space was: No bigger than a pantry, furnished only with a standing stone and two small incense altars.
And that’s when it hit me: ‘You got it all wrong.’
This God who walks among us is not about grandeur and show.
Don’t come into God’s temple expecting fireworks. Look instead for reliable companionship and daily bread.
It’s the same sort of personality, I note, that Jesus reveals to us in today’s Gospel reading. The ‘Second Temple’ crowd isn’t at all pleased to see what transpires:
Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”
Jesus refuses to take the bait. Instead, he reminds the Pharisees that God actually has little use for grand gestures, devoid of love and compassion.
And looking into their eyes, he tries to teach them a Tel Arad sort of truth. ‘You got it all wrong, fellas,’ says this Immanuel, our Yahweh in Street Clothes.
‘I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.