Cleansing the Temple
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,"What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
(John 2:13 – 25)
We have just heard the dramatic account of Jesus casting the money-changers out of the Temple. This story reminds me of a meme I saw that's been making its way around the Internet.
The meme displays a beautiful portrait of Our Lord cleansing the Temple with these words superimposed over it: "The next time somebody asks you 'What would Jesus do?' remind them that freaking out, making a whip out of cords, and overturning tables is a valid option."
There are many things we learn from this account, and one of them is that Jesus is not "nice." NICE people don't get upset and make a scene. NICE people are content to remain silent when they see injustice being done. NICE people are content to live and LET live.
No, Jesus was not "nice" and we as Christians are not being called to be PEOPLE who are nice, pleasant, middle-class, mild mannered, and mediocre.
Now, I'm NOT suggesting that the next time there is a bake sale in church we should go overturn the tables and send the ladies' guild running.
But when we see evil or injustice being done we SHOULD experience a RIGHTEOUS anger, and in THOSE moments we may be called to speak the truth, even if that means disrupting the status quo.
What was it about the money-changers in the Temple that made Jesus so angry? To understand THAT we must first understand something about the Temple itself.
As the Gospel tells us, the time of Passover was near. This meant that all Jewish men were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where they would offer sacrifice in the Temple.
Those coming from far away would not bring the sacrificial animals with them. Instead, the animals could be purchased at the Temple. But the CURRENCY of the day often bore the image of Caesar or other foreign kings who were worshiped as gods. This coinage was considered impure and inappropriate for use in the Temple.
So BEFORE pilgrims could purchase their sacrificial animals it was necessary to exchange their foreign money for currency that was acceptable for Temple use (and you can bet that the money-changers took a nice commission for themselves, knowing that the pilgrims had no other option).
The other thing about this situation that made Jesus so angry was the LOCATION of all this buying and selling. It was occurring in what was known as the Court of the Gentiles. This was the outermost courtyard of the Temple where ALL people (even non-Jews) were able to worship God.
Beyond this courtyard was the Court of Women, where only JEWS were allowed. It was called the Court of WOMEN because it was as far into the Temple as Jewish women were allowed. Beyond this, as you might expect, was the Court of Men, where Jewish males prayed.
Finally, at the very center of the Temple was its heart, the Holy of Holies, the location of the Ark of the Covenant and therefore the place where the very presence of God resided. Only the High Priest could enter here and only once a year on the Day of Atonement called Yom Kippur.
All that is to say that the money-changing and buying and selling was taking place in the ONLY location where Gentiles could worship the true God.
In the Gospel of MARK'S account of this incident Jesus says, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples, but YOU have made it a den of thieves."
Indeed there WERE Gentiles who recognized that the God of Israel was the TRUE God. As we learn from the Scriptures the vocation of the Jewish people was not to be an insular religion limited to one ethnic group but a light and example to ALL the nations.
However, this vocation did not find its fulfillment until Christ established the NEW Israel, His Catholic Church which, as we know, is literally universal.
In any event, Jesus' righteous anger was roused because the very people who should have been encouraging the Gentiles to pray to God were instead turning the one venue where that was possible into a marketplace.
Have you ever tried to pray in an atmosphere where everyone else around you was NOT praying? Unfortunately in many of our churches today, as soon as the Mass is over, an atmosphere of conversation and chitchat prevails instead of one of silence and prayer.
The Gospel tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus' actions in the Temple they were reminded of the Scripture that says "Zeal for your house will consume me."
Are we, like Jesus, ZEALOUS for the house of God? Do we realize that Jesus is truly present in our tabernacles even after the Mass has ended and do we act accordingly?
Do we treat the church building as a truly sacred space or simply a meeting place?
To be sure there is and should be a social dimension to our worship. It is GOOD that we greet our fellow Christians when we see them at the Eucharist.
But as my mother always said, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." The place for silence and prayer is the church. The place for conversation and socializing is the church hall or gathering space.
Far be it from us to PREVENT those who are trying to pray from doing so. As we know, just two people talking can prevent many people nearby from praying.
So WHEN the Mass is ended, and BEFORE we go in peace, we should kneel down and say a brief prayer of thanksgiving for the amazing gift we have just received. At the very least we should simply depart in silence out of respect for our brethren who may still be praying.
But enough of my soapbox. There is something we learn from this Gospel that is even more important than economic justice for pilgrims or even respect and reverence for the house of God.
This Gospel teaches us that Jesus has authority OVER and is greater THAN the Temple itself. When the people asked Jesus, "What sign can you give us for doing this?" (or in other words, "Just WHO do you think you are?") He told them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
In effect He was saying "I am the one for Whom this Temple was built, and through MY efficacious sacrifice I will put an end to all of THESE sacrifices that are merely a shadow."
And to prove His words were true, three days after being killed He rose from the dead. And then His disciples remembered that He said this, and they believed the Scriptures and the words He had spoken.
As Jesus told us elsewhere in the Gospels, something GREATER than the Temple is here. Instead of the Ark of the Covenant we have God Himself truly present in the tabernacle of every Catholic church.
No longer is it the High Priest ONLY who can enter the presence of God once a year. No longer are we divided into groups of men, women, and Gentiles. But ALL of us, EACH AND EVERY DAY, can come before the presence of God in His house. And THAT is something WORTH being zealous about.