Last week’s article began a series of reflections upon the week leading up to the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
This article will focus on Monday of that week and the cleansing of the Temple, a paradigm of the healing work that Jesus offers for every individual and society. Having entered Jerusalem and the Temple on Palm Sunday, Jesus returned to the Temple on Monday in a more formal manner. In the Temple, there were various courts that different sorts of people could come to. The outer court was for non-Jews who wanted to worship the true God of Israel even though they were not a part of the Chosen People. At the time of Jesus, there were many such people, often called “God fearers.” When they arrived in the Temple, they should have seen a place of prayer, repentance and joy before the Almighty God.
However, the actual scene was very different, with the selling of animals and changing of currency, probably at exorbitant rates. For one of the main activities of the Temple was the sacrifice of animals, whose meat would be eaten in a sacred meal. The animals had to be without blemish in order to be worthy of the sacrifice. And, rather than bring animals all the way from distant homes, and then risk rejection because of some blemish, people would buy the animals in Jerusalem. Because the animals were meant for a sacred purpose, the purchase had to be in the sacred coin of the Jews, not in the pagan Roman currency. Now there was nothing wrong with the sale of animals and the changing of money. However, to get part of the profits, the Temple authorities had authorized these animal purchases and money changing right in the Temple, the place where people of all nations was meant to gather in prayer. And, due to the monopoly power, they were likely charging excessive prices. This situation rightly angered Jesus, who drove the merchants out of the Temple.
The event was historic in itself and increased the opposition to Jesus by the rich and powerful. But it also exemplifies the cleansing power of Jesus Christ and His Church, who seeks to purify the heart of each person and each society from the greed and vice that mars our status as a Temple of the Lord.
We ask that Jesus help us to be fitting Temples who exemplify His grace on earth in preparation for the gathering of all nations in the final and heavenly Jerusalem.