John 2:13-25, an Essayistic Exploration into the Morality of Tourism and Sacral Architecture
Daniel Kipp Astin
Quotes for contemplation:
-“He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep and doves…”
-“Zeal for your house will consume me”
-“The Temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?”
In my extensive travels (for someone who is 22 years of age), I have been throughout much of the United States and North America including Alaska, Hawaii and Cuba. In my European travels, I have had the privilege of visiting Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland and the Vatican. According to the popular Been app for smartphones, the culmination of all my travels amounts to 52% of the United States, and 5% of the world. One of the commonalities all these countries hold, is they are all predominately Christian nations. Scotland has the lowest percent of Christians in the group,
with a total hovering in the high 2 millions. They still retain an overall percentage of around a 53% majority. Perhaps more obviously, the Vatican is highest on the list, with 100% of the 1,000 residents being Catholic. The largest Christian nation in numbers is the United States, which as of 2019, boasts 213,000,000 Christians according to the Pew research center. Having stated these figures and included some snapshots of my travels, one can safely assume Christianity’s influence on these countries is enormous. Architectural influence alone, demonstrated by the included photos is clearly substantial. However, what is the purpose of all these grandiose and impressive displays of Christian architecture? Are people appreciating these structures for their true intent? Would any structure do? How can we enjoy these incredibly moving architectural works in their intended manner? To me, John 2:13-25 possesses most, if not all the answers to these questions. Only the reader can decide for themselves, but I will illustrate my thought processes.
In John 2:13-25, infamously portrayed in the 1960’s film, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Christ rebukes the market-keepers who set their stalls outside of the temple, selling a variety of livestock. Christ is quoted as saying “stop making my father’s house a marketplace”. To many, this passage, and famed scene acted out in The Greatest Story Ever Told, constitutes Christ’s finest hour before his betrayal and subsequent crucifixion. As we all contemplate his life, death and resurrection while Lent draws to a close, many of us consider the meaning behind this clearly emotional portrayal of Jesus and its modern equivalency. Clearly God does not want churches to be for any purpose other than to glorify his word, bring others to gospel and to worship. However, what if spending on such lavish buildings as La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, already claiming a price tag of 374 million Euros, is too much? Could that money not be better spent? There are a variety of responses both scholars and the clergy have given on this topic. Perhaps unsatisfactorily, the response from one of these two camps could best be posed in the form of another question. What is the true cost of a building whose intention is to capture a snapshot of holiness? If mankind were capable of bringing those who come into contact with such impressive edifices into salvation, would it be worth it? Others may say such money is wasted and could distract from the Lord’s omnipresence. The way I rationalized this topic and theological position, was by recollecting time spent in Washington, D.C. where I worked for an entire summer in 2019. The impressive and patriotic displays on the buildings and monuments of Capital Hill made me feel a strong sense of patriotism. However, the reality is that as a human being, I am no more an American in D.C. than in the plains of the Midwest. I am also moved by the looming and seemingly holy presence of Notre Dame, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Catedral de San Cristobal and the monuments and works too numerous to count in the Vatican. At the end of it all, sitting in my home during the pandemic, writing this piece in Wilmington, Delaware, I am still a Christian. Monuments make me no more a Christian abroad than I am in my own living room. Do these structures possess a great ability to convert every patron who enters their doors? To me, the answer is only perhaps. Only if one removes their camera or cell phone from blocking their face, sits in a pew and lets the presence of a magnificent edifice engulf them in the same beautiful and indescribable way as God’s Salvation.
Daniel Kipp Astin is a 2020 graduate of Susquehanna University with a bachelors in Creative writing. An avid outdoorsman and traveler, Astin enjoys exploring the effects of place, time and spirituality on identity. Astin enjoys writing historic and outdoor adventure fiction. He also specializes in essays dealing with anthropology, history, technology, polemics and faith.