By The Rev. Sam Portaro
In today’s readings in I Chronicles [Ch 22-24] David’s reign is nearing its end and he is making preparation for a transition of responsibility to his son, Solomon. His conquests behind him, David has presided over a period of tremendous expansion. At last, he returns to his earlier dream of a house for God and orders that the foundation be laid for the temple Solomon would complete. While such an act may seem the obstinate egotism of a man who refuses to surrender a will deferred by Nathan’s prophetic intervention, is it not possible that David undertook this measure in order that all might understand that all his conquests, and the benefits of the same, are forever to be seen as belonging to God? While David is inarguably determining an agenda for his successor son, he is also giving expression to his fundamental conviction that Israel’s success, and all credit for the same, is due to God. Thus, as his reign winds down, we find David back where his reign began: attending to the rightful worship of God, provisioning the nation with a temple, and the temple with a priesthood now grown to reflect the fullness of Israel’s new reality.
Once again, today’s Psalm portion [119:113-144] could rest upon king David’s tongue, commencing with the bold, “I hate the double-minded, but I love your law,” an assertion lived out in the monarch who is determined in his legacy to ensure that everything gained in his rule be consistent with his singular devotion to God.
When reading Chapter 9 of Paul’s letter to Rome, it is helpful—even essential—to remember that Christianity, like Paul himself, is bound in profound relationship to Judaism. Like any member of a family struggling to find and establish his or her own identity, so the early Christian community, itself a sect of Judaism, is in crisis. Remember, too, that a crisis in one member affects the family, as well; the family is also struggling to establish its identity and distinction. Thus emotions are raw, fear is rife, and the pain of separation tears at hearts, for every such rending is a foreshadowing of death.
The assertion of Chapter 8 that nothing shall ever separate us from the love of God manifest in Christ Jesus moves in Chapter 9 to an anticipation of all who might challenge that assertion with logical arguments, many drawn from scripture. Paul’s conclusion, like David’s, remains consistent: it is beyond our human capacity to fathom the measure or the mechanics of God’s promise of fidelity to humankind. God’s promise, like Godself, is what it is. Interestingly, and fittingly, Paul ends with the image of Christ—the incarnation of the Promise—as a stone laid in Zion, a stumbling block but also, like the stones laid by David, the foundation of a new temple made not of stone, but of human hearts filled and aligned with the love of God.
David goes to considerable lengths to ensure his legacy. What is the one enduring principle you wish to leave at your death? What measures have you, or might you, undertake to ensure its endurance?
The image of a temple occurs prominently in these readings. What do these images evoke in your own imagining? How does Paul’s image of temple compare or contrast to David’s? What kind of “temple” survives as Jesus’ legacy, and Paul’s?
In me, on me, you build your temple, God. Make my heart your home and come, dwell therein. Amen.
The Rev. Sam Portaro is former Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Chicago and a noted author and retreat leader.