This is the signature scenery of modern day Jerusalem. The famous golden dome is an Islamic shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Yes, you might have seen this landmark in any photographs of Jerusalem. It’s beautiful and great.But in the days of Jesus, in place of the shrine, there stood a Jewish temple that was more beautiful and much greater than the Dome of the Rock. That was the King Herod’s Temple. If you look at this small-sized replica, you may understand where the disciples’ astonishment came from in today’s Gospel reading. It says, “as [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’
In the eighteenth year of his reign (20–19 BCE), Herod initiated this grand project to double the size of the Temple’s platform, the so-called Temple Mount, by building supporting structures into the deep valleys surrounding it. The area of this platform was about the size of 24 football fields. And this giant platform was bordered by four mammoth retaining walls of large stones. On this incredible foundation stood the actual building of the temple, which was approximately ten stories high and likely to be adorned with gold and silver. This temple was just massive and impressive. No wonder the disciples got amazed and said, “What large stones and what large buildings!”
Across the age, people are attracted to large things. They are the statements of power and wealth, so in ancient days, they were used as a political propaganda. The large scale of construction represented the ruler’s authority and prosperity. So, the temple in the time of Jesus surely represented the economic, political, and military power of Herod as the leader of Jews. As attracted to look of the splendor and grandeur of this Temple, people in Jerusalem might have felt peace and safety.
When it comes to our very lives, we have the same tendency. We lean towards large things of power and wealth, something we believe that they can secure foundations for our life and our family. What large stones are we searching for to build our stable life on top of it? A steady position at work, a good salary, large properties and money, a solid investment plan and a pension, and so forth. For extra safety and for extra comfort there is no limit to our seeking of the large.
Our inclination towards large things can be in some part justified in the name of human condition. We have a certain innate tendency to be attracted towards the large and the grandeur. Also, we are verysusceptible to the measures of the world and the gauges of greatness set by our society. Yes, in a way, we are helpless about our natural tendency. However, if we are always pulled towards what appears to be better and greater than what we have and who we are, and if we constantly find ourselves quickly and easily mesmerized by power beyond our grasp and prosperity beyond our reach, we should be careful. It’s because that kind of yearning and craving inside us can turn into an idolatry at any given moment…into the idolatry of the large, of the grandeur.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus puts forward this chilling account on this idolatry in the disciples’ heart, “Do you see these great [stones and] buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2) Listening to this foretold end time, the disciples who were amazed at the magnitude of the temple became silent and they privately asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4) Then, Jesus begins to warn them about tribulation and persecution at the apocalypse that will happen before the ultimate triumph of God, as it is written in the Book of Daniel. Taking the disciples and us to the stark scene of end time, Jesus directly problematizes our idolatry of the grandeur and our idolatrous practices of having more and grabbing the greater. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down,” thus, says the Lord.
In actual history, the Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It was completely ruined and never constructed again. The glorious days of Herod eclipsed. His magnificent power and wealth that seemed to last forever were helplessly faded into futility. His large stones and large buildings were gone. Likewise, the large foundations we seek today will be gone someday. And on the Day of the Lord, such foundations, such stones, will be turned into the sinking sand and will never be able to save us. That’s the warning we have today. And that’s the call of God for us today to take our idolatrous eyes off from the large and the grandeur in the world and look only for the everlasting foundation in God. Yes, we better not to walk on the way of idolatry in our megalomaniac culture but to choose to be faithful in our true foundation.
Then what’s that foundation? The Bible testifies to this true foundation over and over again. I think the Bible is all about this foundation. The Bible calls this foundation, “Cornerstone,” the stone that was once rejected by the builders and still despised by the modern-day builders for the worldly temple of power. The Bible calls this foundation, “the Rock of Salvation,” the rock that hold the unfailing and unbreakable grace of God for us. Yes, this foundation is Jesus Christ who was crucified but has risen for our new life. Through his death and resurrection, he becomes the keystone of our life and our church.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what large stones are we seeking? On which foundation do we try to build our life and ministry? Reflecting on end time, we need to reaffirm our faith in the bedrock of our life, Jesus Christ. Upon this rock, we should build our life and our church. To do this, let us do two things. First, remove other stones from the foundation and clear the ground for the better construction. If any large and great stones that we’re seeking hinder us from Christ, then they are only stumbling blocks of idolatry. And they should be removed on our way. Power, money, attention, fame, pride, achievement, safety…whatever they may be, they better be gone. Second, build our lives and our church on the foundation by the labor of faith, following the blueprint of hope, and with the cement of love. Brick by brick, stone by stone, let us build up our lives together in God using the prime and unlimited resources from God—faith, hope, and love. Whether our circumstances and situations are favorable or unfavorable, let’s not lose our heart and mind, because the call of God is clear to us today. The Epistle lesson encourages us, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) For sure, we cannot predict anything about the Day of the Lord. But thanks be to God for we do have this faith and for we truly know of the most important foundation of our life and our church. So let us remove stumbling stones, build our life, build our church with faith, hope, and love on Christ, the solid rock we stand. Amen.
Karoline Lewis, “What Large Stones” (Sunday, November 11, 2018 11:12 AM) from workingpreacher.org (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5249)