Following on a quotation from Saint Augustine noted by TSO yesterday, I turned my reading back to the Old Testament last evening, once again to savor the richness of the salvation story. Throughout this testament God's love is made manifest in His gift of the prophets. So I'll share with you a little reflection that came from reading one of the prophets less often read.
2: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD."
3: Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet,
4: "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
5: Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider how you have fared.
6: You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes.
7: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider how you have fared.
8: Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory, says the LORD.
9: You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house.
Sometimes I am awed and in deep wonder at what the Lord allowed to come down to us in the Bible. The words here seem so irrelevant to us today. Haggai is told to tell the people of the exile now returned home to rebuild the temple of the Lord. What relevance does the rebuilding of the temple have for any of us today? Why do we hear this word?
I think it's fairly evident that the temple spoken of here is two-fold. There is the exterior temle, which is a powerful sign of God's presence among the people and the interior temple, which is also a shambles. In rebuilding the exterior temple, God is setting in motion a work that will help to transform the interior temple. By using the labor of their bodies, the people of Israel work within their souls to realize how lost they have been.
Look at the words of the passage above. How much more relevant could they possibly be for today? Verse 4: "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? " We build for ourselves (at least in this country) comfortable, perhaps too-comfortable lives--lives that are in many ways so comfortable that service to the Lord is an inconvenience--an arduous necessity that we do because we have to, but it really gets in the way of our rhythm. I know most St. Bloggers don't feel that way most of the time, but I know there are times when I would rather be doing anything o ther than Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer or any number of things I do to get in touch with God.
Look at verses 6-7 again: "You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider how you have fared."
I toil at making more money at getting more things. I eat and eat and eat myself into oblivion. I live in a hypersexualized society that seeks to deaden the interior emptiness, the ruins inside, with progressively more perverse passtimes. Our modern fashions dress us in expensive clothes that reveal more and more skin--they don't keep us warm, but they keep us fashionable. And I never, never, never have enough of anything. As a society, we are morally bankrupt. We are attempting to gild the exterior of the ruined sepulchres that many have as souls. We seek to fill the emptiness inside with thngs from outside. We want to be full and propsperous and happy and we go about it in all the wrong ways.
If first I were to "Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory, says the LORD" (verse 8), I would be rightly ordering things. Jesus says later, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." When I build God's temple first, when I please Him, I am starting down the right path. Building His temple by actions in this world, helps to sets to right the ruins inside. Yes, prayer and fasting and attendance at Mass are all necessary and fruitful, but I am enjoined to real action in this world. I must go to the hills and bring the living wood of souls who have not known the joy of the gospel message. I am to build God a house of humanity that worships Him and rejoices in His glory. It is in this substantive work in the world that I set to right what has gone wrong. (Keep in mind, this is all in cooperation with God's grace, I don't mean to say that I do it.)
Finally, in verse 9, it is again summed up. "You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house."
Perhaps I have looked for much outside of what is right and proper for me. Perhaps I have not looked for much in the right direction. I've looked inside to myself, rather than inside to the enthronement of the King. All of this comes to nothing. I gather these shreds of self, and the first zephyr that strokes my cheeks sends it all to ash and dust.
And why is all of this true? Because I have neglected God's house, the interior castle in which, too often, my Gracious King sits alone on a cold throne in an unlit room, while I scurry about attending to the emptiness inside by filling it with things, thoughts, and experiences. All the while I neglect my service. I do not render my humble homage of love, my duty of keeping company with the Lord of the Universe.
What can I expect other than the person that I am?
So perhaps Haggai is sent to remind the people of Israel, and the people of today, what the priorities are. Perhaps his words come down to us because they are words for every people of every age. They are a literal prefigurement of Jesus's profound teaching that God must come first. The throneroom must be decorated, lit, and kept warm to welcome Him, and we are to be constant attendants, servants always to the King who reigns over our souls. We are to build a suitable house through the offering of ourselves and those we meet each day. Only in this way will the chllly emptiness we try so desperately to fill be vanquished. He is King if only I will make Him King. He will not force His rule upon me. And I may only make Him King, if I treat Him as such, if I build His house in the world and in my soul.