In the Gospel accounts of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the episode of the cleansing of the Temple follows the entry of Jesus and his disciples into Jerusalem and provides the reason for the final plot to bring about Jesus’ death.
In the Fourth Gospel (John) version, the pretext for this conspiracy is the raising of Lazarus, so the evangelist places this well-attested event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The area of Judaea is that of hostility to Jesus, Jerusalem is the chief city in the region and the Temple is the religious focal point of the capital. The Passover is the principal Jewish pilgrimage feast, so the setting of today’s event could not be more significant. Three terms are used to denote the place: “Temple”, “my Father’s house” and “sanctuary”. The first refers to the physical building; the second, the house of the Lord (the traditional way of referring to the Temple) which has become a “market”; the third, the inner sanctuary, the place of God’s presence to the people of Israel.
In the Fourth Gospel, we find the theme of replacement: Jesus in himself replaces the feasts and institutions of Judaism. The Temple was the place of privileged access to the presence of God for Israel. The discussion with the Jewish authorities plays on the ambiguity of the physical stone structure and its ultimate purpose as the place where God’s presence is located in a special way. As a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection,Jesus himself will be the place where God’s presence is accessible to people.
The Gospel account of the driving out of the merchants from the Temple precincts is the only one in the Gospels which shows Jesus in a fury. The merchants were providing the animals required for the rituals of sacrifice: the money changers were converting Roman coinage bearing the emperor’s image into acceptable currency for use within the sacred enclosure; there is no suggestion of racketeering. Although there was nothing technically wrong with what they were doing, Jesus sees it as an abuse, distracting from the purpose for which the Temple was built, and takes drastic action to rectify the situation.
Anger is an emotion which is often misunderstood. It is essentially the appropriate reaction to unjust situations or the exploitation of the weaker members of society. It is usually the driving force behind much-needed reforms, for instance in regard to slavery, child labour and discrimination of any kind. It is, indeed, listed among the seven deadly sins, but if we look at these titles, we will find that they contain a positive value and that the “sin” is, in fact, an extreme and inappropriate expression of this. Anger enables a constructive response to injustice: uncontrollable rage is destructive, both to the person concerned and to others involved. Without anger, there would be a resigned acceptance of unfair treatment: this is not the message of the Bible, of the prophets or of Jesus. It may be that we do not get angry enough when we should.
- In the Fourth Gospel, the term “the Jews” usually refers to the religious and political leaders in Israel, not to the people as a whole.
- In this Gospel version, Jesus replaces, in himself, the Temple as the focus of God’s presence.
- The Temple was the place of sacrifice: after its destruction by the Romans in AD 70, it was never rebuilt and the sacrificial cult ceased in Judaism.
God, give me the courage to change the things I can.
(from the Serenity Prayer)
Reflect on what makes you angry in society or your local area: decide what you can do about it – and do it.