WHAT? MONEYCHANGERS IN THE TEMPLE? BINGO!
When is the last time you walked into a Church where either a statue, mosaic or picture of Jesus with a whip in his hand, rage written on his face, and on a tear against a group of people could be found? Never in my almost 68 years and I bet you can’t think of such a place either. Yet that is the snapshot of Jesus we are presented in this week-end’s Gospel story. Jesus enters the Temple, finds it overrun with merchants and money changers and in a fit of Gospel pique, drives them out, whip in hand and tongue lashing just as severe. This moment appears in all four Gospels, though in a different chronology in Matthew, Mark and Luke than in John which we hear this week-end. So what has made the Lord so angry? I offer this picture and then a hint of an explanation:
First, there was an important and necessary place for merchants and money changers in the general Temple area. If you and your family were making a pilgrimage from Nazareth, let us say, to Jerusalem for Passover and you had some money, you bought a lamb to present to the priests for sacrifice when you got to Jerusalem rather than bringing it along with you on the trip. If you were poor, you bought a dove from the merchants to present to the priests, and didn’t pack it up at home in a cage and walk with it all the way to the Temple Mount. You were also expected to pay for these items in Jewish half shekels but the coin of the realm at the time was the Roman denarius with an image of Caesar and an inscription which declared the emperor to be divine. Your offering could not be made with a blasphemous coin so it was necessary to exchange Greek and Roman coins for Jewish shekels which had no value outside the Temple but were obligatory inside the Temple – thus the money changers.
Initially all this commerce was done on the Mount of Olives from which perspective this picture was taken or in the Kidron Valley outside the Golden Gate (shown in the foreground of the Temple picture) prior to entering the Temple area. Over time, it would seem in the life of Jesus, the merchants and money changers set up shop inside the Temple in the great plaza between the entrance shown on the left of the picture and the Inner Temple and Holy of Holies shown in the center. Although King David’s Great Temple was long destroyed, the great temple of King Herod the Great shown here as it was thought to be at the time of Jesus was built on exactly the same lines. One washed themselves or purified themselves in the Pool of Siloam or the Temple pool, both of which were located outside the Temple itself and to the left but not shown here, entered with one’s animal for sacrifice or one’s offering into the giant plaza as we would call it, approached the priests with the women gathering on the left of the Holy of Holies and the men going around to the right where the priests could be found, and then the High Priest would be given the animals for ritual slaughter inside the Temple itself in the Holy of Holies which is through the giant doors. The area was as reverential as it could be with huge numbers of pilgrims coming at Passover and reserved for prayer and offerings.
What Jesus found was chaos. Merchants and moneychangers had moved inside between the entrance to the left and the inner Temple and were shouting to gain the attention of the pilgrims looking to purchase a lamb for slaughter or a dove for offering and to exchange their coin offerings for shekels. The Father’s House had become a den of thieves which suggests that the merchants and money changers had probably figured a way to cheat the pilgrims who suddenly found themselves like a returning parent who remembers at the last airport that they haven’t purchased a gift for the spouse and children and into the high priced airport shops they go, trapped by time and need.
So allow me some final thoughts about what all this could possibly mean for our life in faith today? This list is not taxative to be sure:
1. Is the Bingo sign at the parish larger and more legible than the times of Masses sign?
2. Do we enter inside our modern Churches/Temples and pass by tables set up to sell raffle tickets, dance tickets, dinner tickets or is this done appropriately outside?
3. Are we greeted as we enter our modern day Temples or Churches with a quiet welcome or is our attention directed to some other distraction?
Just some thoughts for this Third Sunday of Lent. Have a good week-end all,
Tags: Scripture Reflection