What’s in a Box

Inspiration can come in some surprising forms. An article in the January-February 2016 issue of Smithsonian left a lump in my throat. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen archaeologscrollical finds in seminary, so I was pleased to see pictures of Galilean treasures unearthed in recent years.

One item is particularly intriguing: a quartzite box found in the synagogue in Magdala (also newly discovered). It has some of the earliest-known carvings of the Jerusalem Temple’s menorah and other sacred items from the Temple areas where only priests were allowed. It even has a symbol of the veil separating the priests’ area from the Holy of Holies. So the box represents a three-dimensional model of Herod’s entire Jerusalem Temple.

Here’s what brought the goosebumps: Rina Talgam, the art historian who is studying the box, believes it represents one more sect of Judaism in Jesus’ day, alongside the Pharisees, Sadducees and others. This group believed that God does not live solely in Jerusalem but is accessible to any Jew anywhere. In effect, the box allowed them to bring the entire Temple to their own provincial synagogue for worship. In this way, Talgam says, that Jewish group was a forerunner to the New Testament with its theme of God’s Reign existing not only in heaven but also on earth and in the human heart. As Talgam told the writer of the article, God is not only in heaven, but also within the faith community and within each one of us.

As stewards of the gospel, we know that God has gifted us with so much, from God’s love to our lives and everything in between. But what makes me tremble is this: God even entrusts us with the gift of God’s own Living Presence. If it takes a miniature Temple on a box to remind us, then that’s fine with me. The fact is that “God Is With Us” – Emmanuel.

How can we be stewards of God’s Living Presence by the way we live today?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub