- Exodus 20:1-17
- Psalm 19
- Corinthians 1:18-25
- John 2:13-22
We live in a world where evil is present with us, and a good deal of the evil is within ourselves. The Ten Commandments are given to us as a means to avoid evil – by following God’s perfect law. Sometimes we identify the evil through “Seven Capital Sins“: pride, anger, greed, envy, lust, sloth, and gluttony. Several of these sins are evident in today’s account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.
The temple in Jerusalem had a vital place in Hebrew religion. Following the return from the Exile, the building of a new temple brought the resumption of sacrifices as an expression of service to God. Yet such service can offer fertile soil for human sinfulness. Convenience can appeal to sloth; greed can motivate the official who issues licenses; pride comes to those who are able to enter the holy place where others cannot.
By the time of Jesus, the appointed temple officials had probably become corrupt, rejecting most animals brought for sacrifice as not being worthy while charging exorbitant prices for acceptable ones. The abuse was compounded by the monetary exchange system of the temple. Only temple currency was accepted in the purchase and inspection of the animals, and the money-changers made a great profit by offering a poor exchange rate.
All of this business was being conducted in the outer courts of the temple, which was the only place Gentile “God-fearers” could worship. Instead of being a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6), Israel’s religious center had become a marketplace.
Clearly Jesus valued the temple; otherwise he would have had no motive for his actions to cleanse it from its corruption. His protest is like that of the prophets of old against the “profanation of God’s house and a sign of the messianic purification of the Temple was at hand” according to Raymond E. Brown. His violent demonstration of outrage calls forth the first signs of hostility from the Jewish leaders. They demand a sign of his credentials. Again and again they ask for proof (4:48, 6:30, 10:24), but reject the signs he provides (2:23).
Jesus shows a human emotion: anger. Beverly Harrison says, “Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring. To put it another way: anger is – and it always is – a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed . . . A chief evidence of the grace of God – which always comes to us in, with, and through each other – is the power to struggle and to experience indignation.” (“The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” in Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985).
Jesus alludes to the ultimate sign of his authority – his death and resurrection. The temple, representative of the old covenant of the law, will indeed be destroyed and a new one raised. (Revelation 21:22).
We are called into a covenant relationship with God at baptism. In Christ there is a new covenant symbolized by Jesus’ action of cleansing the temple. In the new covenant, Jesus’ body becomes the meeting place between God and creation, rather than the temple in Jerusalem. Paul reminds his readers that the former covenant does not bring life, but only frustration and anguish.
- What does the incident in the temple reveal to you about Jesus?
- In what sense might Jesus operated in a similar fashion today? in the world? in the Church? in your life?
- What habits in your spiritual life might be keeping you from pure worship and form being a light to others?
- What practices serve to distract from or enhance your own worship experience, and why?