Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, with the narrative of the cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple, raises in an acute form the question which the Professionals call Christian-Jewish relations. Well meaning as these people are, it seems to me that they fail to make any real attempt at historical contextualisation. They are so obsessed with rapprochement between third millennium Catholicism and Pharisaic Rabbinic Synagogue Judaism that they almost seem unaware that, in terms of the 'New Testament Period', Judaism was a Temple-centred, Sacrifice-based, Religion. Modern discussions are so concerned with questions like "Does Christianity supersede Judaism?" and "Will Christians pervert Jews from Jewry?" that it pays little attention to the more down-to-earth question 'Exactly what is supposed to be superseding, or not superseding, exactly what?' I think this is a fairly massive lacuna.
Rabbis, very naturally, are preoccupied with anxieties that we might steal their congregations from them (if only they knew how useless we are at Mission!). But when did you last herar the complaint "Will these Catholic Priests stop Jews from going up to make the appointed animal sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem"? Since there hasn't been a Temple in Jerusalem for nearly two thousand years, it is very natural that this anxiety need never keep theRabbis awake at night ... you wouldn't expect it to! But Catholicism in fact claims to be the fulfilment and hence (in terms of day-by-day, year-by-year, cultic actions) the replacement, of the Temple's Sacrificial system.
Some thirty years ago, the great Ed Sanders, a self-described "liberal modern secularised Protestant", pointed out that the meaning of the Lord's Palm Sunday 'Cleansing of the Temple' is most obviously seen as the replacement of the Temple. And after all, Jesus does refer to himself as the Temple. And in 1989, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a prolific and brilliant American writer upon First Century Judaism, offered his own, brilliant, refinement of Sanders' argument. The moneychangers, he explains, were there to facilitate the payment of the Temple tax which "serve[d] through the coming year to provide the public daily whole offerings, in the name of the community". So:
" ... the overturning of the moneychangers' tables represents an act of the rejection of the most important rite of the Israelite cult, the daily whole-offering, and, therefore, a statement that there is a means of atonement other than the daily whole-offering, which now is null. Then what was to take the place of the daily whole-offering? It was to be the rite of the Eucharist: table for table, whole-offering for whole-offering. It therefore seems to me that the correct context in which to read the overturning of the money-changers' tables is not the destruction of the Temple in general, but the institution of the sacrifice of the eucharist, in particular. It further follows that the counterpart of Jesus' negative action in overturning one table must be his affirmative action in establishing or setting up another table, that is to say, I turn to the passion narratives centred upon the Last Supper. That, at any rate, is how, as an outsider to scholarship in this field, I should suggest we read the statement. The negative is that the atonement for sin achieved by the daily whole offering is null, and the positive, that atonement for sin is achieved by the Eucharist: one table overturned, another table set up in place, and both for the same purpose of atonement and expiation of sin."
I have highlighted in blue the words in which Neusner the Jew expresses his discernment of how the Eucharistic Sacrifice ordained by Jesus of Nazareth was intended to supersede the Temple Sacrificial system.
I don't think we Catholics should be grabbing or claiming to supersede the synagogue-based Rabbinic Judaism of the last nineteen centuries. That would be sheer theft. The rabbis invented it; how could we possibly have any right to it? But the Temple with its system was the construct 'in possession' at the moment at which they and we, two competing heirs of Second Temple Judaism, began to go our two separate ways. What they took with them on their journey is for them to say and I would not be so discourteous as to lecture them upon it; what we took on ours was the Daily Sacrifice of the Lamb. Deus qui legalium differentiam hostiarum unius sacrificii perfectione sanxisti ...
The Temple hosted the private sacrifices of individuals and families between the Morning and Evening Sacrifices of the People of God. I can think of nothing more like this in spirit as well as in sacramental reality than a great Catholic church in the Medieval or Baroque period. At the High Altar you might see the formal prescribed ritual of the Act of Immolation in the public, communal Capitular Mass. And at the side altars, you hear the murmur of the private Masses laying before YHWH the private intentions of individuals and families.
Yes; the rabbis are more than entitled to undisturbed possession of their own lawful property. All we claim is the propitiatory Oblation which sums up and fulfills and enfolds and transcends all the Temple Sacrifices ... as well as the thusia typike of Our Patriarch Abraham ... and the munera, 'dutiful offerings', of God's Righteous Servant Abel at the dawn of time. If they have no wish to take all that from us, what is there for us both to squabble about?