The temple was always the confluence of the Divine and the human. It was the place were the rift between man and his Maker was suspended in the interest of unfettered communion. There was, however, one major problem with the temple as it was: immobility. Born out of the desire to mark places where man had come face to face with God, the temple became a jail, a place where God, or gods, was chained. Of course, the temple in the desert went everywhere the Israelites did, it just wasn’t the same. How could God commune with man when while man was all over the world, God sat locked in one place? The pagans had lesser gods living everywhere and charms they could carry anywhere as ”embassies” of the gods. Jesus built a community.
With Jesus as the living cornerstone, every member is to be a living stone aligned to that cornerstone that the builders rejected. The community of believers is the place where humankind experiences the Presence of God. God is present with all humanity but at the Temple, they meet in the spirit of reconciliation. The community of believers is tasked with being God’s embrace of dying humanity, yes, even hostile humanity. A covenant forged with Abraham promised to bless the world through his progeny (Genesis 12:3) but in Jesus’ time, Abraham’s progeny had become painfully exclusive. A covenant had been forged with God’s people at Sinai to teach them to live as Children of God with priests as models but alas, by the time Jesus walked this earth, they were cruel leeches sucking the blood of those who dared approach the temple. Instead of modelling God to the people, they became obstacles in the way of those looking for God; sacrifices and feast days meant to point to God now served to obscure Him.

As said before, Jesus built a community. The Presence of God was no longer confined to lifeless walls around dead memories, no, it was to be where God wanted it all along: a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). Thus Peter writes to this priesthood, this royal priesthood, reminding them that they contain the Presence of God. They are the living tent in which the Living Shekinah glory of the Lord resides. How precious these words must have been to these ostracised people! Second class citizens in a world increasingly hostile to them, they needed to be reminded that they more than mattered to God but were a vital part of His plan to extend His embrace to the whole world. This downtrodden and abused people was actually the power point that the world desperately needed to plug into if it were to access the glory of God.

This knowledge was not meant to fill us with arrogance. Yes, we belong not to the world but we are in the world. The carnal mind chafes under humiliation and explodes in anger at the slightest provocation. Peter throws in a twist – we must bow to kings not despite our royal identity but because of it. Jesus suffered slights from all the “builders” that rejected Him yet He refused to ignite the insurrection that all waited for with bated breath. He knew who He was and kneeling before His disciples to do the most menial of tasks did not diminish Him in anyway but made Him shine all the brighter. Here is contrasted the confident humility of Christ against the brash arrogance of the tyrant whose illusory clout and authority cannot bear the test of humble service.

Rather than scare the world off with our royalty, we ought to conquer our passions and subject ourselves to the authorities in the world. If indeed, we are God’s temple, then our authority cannot come from our position but our content. Thus, we re amazed by the clergy that usurp power in the name of progress and safeguarding. All believers are priests (the women too) and are equal. Where did the haughty cleric find the space to monopolise God? When did his word become law?

Subduing the carnal mind is indispensable because nobody can be insulted and be convinced simultaneously. Our freedom and exaltation, as a result of adoption into God’s family, render it incumbent to convince as many as we can. Arrogance can attract people to church buildings but it can never draw them to the Presence. Christian love i.e. Deliberate benevolence, is the only tool that will win so many to the Way. Humility and confidence are rarely far from each other. Arrogance, be it of the cleric brusquely silencing the voice of dissent or of the laity viciously heckling those who believe differently, will only strengthen the obstinacy of the gospel’s enemies. We are free but freedom comes with responsibility. 

Having been adopted into Christ’s family, we no longer live for fleshly passion but for God. When the crackling of bruised but seething egos dies down, let voices raise their praise and celebrate the coming of age of a living stone in the living temple.

Thus, we bow before our persecutors, not because we fear them but because we would have them commune with the presence.
photo credit: Harry McGregor Glasgow cathedral via photopin (license)