Pilgrims numbering two to four million would ascend to Jerusalem to participate in the annual observance of Passover. During this time the Jewish officials were on edge because their primary concern was to keep order and peace for fear that the Roman military occupation also in presence would step in if need be. If the centurions asserted their enforcement it would be swift and brutal. Even the slightest infraction of civil unrest would be dealt with harshly.
Jesus gathering together a whip made out of chords, driving out the merchants, turning over tables, sending coins flying would have been quite the scene! The disruption certainly would not have gone unnoticed and most likely was the main incident leading to his crucifixion. In this act of cleansing the Temple, Jesus gave a literal visual to his sometimes figurative teachings. Jesus came to shake things up, to wake people up from their spiritual slumber, to bring people back to right worship and praise.
Let us enter this scene of today’s gospel. We are among those among the vast crowd in the temple precincts, shoulder to shoulder amidst the hustle and bustle of the day. A cacophony of words echo about, haggling of prices for animals being purchased for sacrifice mingle with arguments over unjust money exchanges. Then we experience a lull in the crowd, we look over our shoulders and see bodies parting and opening. Then Jesus, rope chords in hand, his face hard, and eyes set on the tables ahead of him. As he passes before us we can feel the electricity of a gathering thunderstorm, and then he lets loose like a lightning bolt. The first table goes over, coins are launched into the air and jingle as they scatter across the stone amidst a chorus of the money changers cries of outrage.
The scene shifts. A knock is heard at the door of our home as we are in the midst of what we do on any given Sunday. We walk to the entrance and spy the same Jesus we just experienced in the temple precincts standing outside. We feel the drop in pressure of a gathering storm, we witness the same hard expression on his face, and in his hand are the same chords. If we do let Jesus in, where does his stride take him, what does he overturn and throw to the floor?
Let us allow Jesus full reign and access to every nook and cranny of our home, as well as our heart, mind, and soul. After Jesus leaves, let us take inventory of what he is guiding us to let go of, materially, psychologically, and spiritually, what he is revealing to us that is keeping and distracting us from having a deeper relationship with his Father. Then let us make a list of that which we need to purge this Lent, from without and within, and pray for the courage to do so that we may return to a life of right worship and praise.
Painting: El Greco, Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, 1600
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, March 4, 2018: