Why does the Church spend money on building temples when the money could be given to the poor?
This is a common question often brought to the forefront when a new temple gains a lot of media attention, such as the recent opening of the Rome Italy Temple. The beautiful building and grounds are rich in marble, stained glass, custom murals, and beloved statues. However, some ask why temples are so lavish when many around the world have so little.
There are many layers to this question. We could discuss the Church’s vast humanitarian arm that gives millions of dollars to charities worldwide. We could discuss the absolute necessity of the temple ordinances and spiritual progression. Yet, I think the very best answer was given by Jesus Christ himself.
As we read in the New Testament, Christ’s disciples asked this exact same question. A woman with an alabaster box of precious ointment came and “stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment” (Luke 7:38).
The disciples with Christ murmured against this woman. “Why was this waste of the ointment made?” they asked. “It might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor” (Mark 14:4-5).
In Christ’s reply are principles we can apply to our day.
“Let her alone; why trouble ye her?” he responds. “She hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always” (Mark 14:6-7).
From this, we learn that Christ accepts all of our efforts to glorify Him. Temples are houses of the Lord and are not made to simply be beautiful for our own enjoyment; they are a physical reflection of how we feel about Jesus Christ. We speak of coming and adoring Christ. We speak of giving Christ everything we have. Though we must also serve others and give to the poor and needy, worshiping Christ by building a holy temple is a similar “good work.”
We also learn about the separation we all face in this mortal journey. Though we can always have the Spirit of Christ in our hearts, we do not enjoy his physical presence in our daily lives. With the commotion of the world, it can also be much harder to enjoy his peace and grace. The temple represents the end of this separation and truly rejoicing in it, as this woman did. She recognized this moment with Christ was precious and did everything to express her love for Christ while she was able to be with him.
When we build temples and serve diligently inside, we do something similar.
Of course, we need to be diligent in giving back. When I ponder Christ’s reply, I see a very clear invitation that the poor will always be with us and we must always do whatsoever is in our power to take care of them. By combining temple work and charitable giving, we meet both temporal and spiritual needs.