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This is a great Gospel passage because it totally breaks any mold we had Jesus in before. Rather than always being nicey-nice and patient and kind, there were actually some things that were worth Jesus losing his shit over. And what was happening in the Temple was one of them.
We are all pretty familiar with the story: Jesus enters the Temple, sees the money-changers and livestock merchants, grabs a whip and starts throwing down. But few people actually know why he was so angry.
Let's back up: every Jew within a 15-mile radius of the Temple HAD to come to Jerusalem to every Passover. It was mandated by Law. Furthermore, if you lived outside that radius, you were expected to make it as often as you could. Indeed, even though it was Law, it was the dream of every Jew to make it to the Temple at Passover at least once in their lifetime, if not multiple times.
When you go to the Temple, you HAD to do two things: pay your Temple tax and make a sacrifice.
Although it was acceptable for Jews to trade with any currency, even Gentile money, the Temple tax had to be paid in shekels. The tax was one half shekel, equivalent in those days to about 2 days' wages.
The money-changers were there to change your money from whatever currency you had into shekels. This is not what Jesus was mad at. They were performing a necessary function that he did not necessarily disagree with.
What upset him was that they were charging exorbitant fees to make the exchanges, sometimes charging one half-shekel for the transaction. For a labourer, this meant forking over 4 days' wages. For people living hand-to-mouth, this was insurmountable.
The other thing you had to do was make a sacrifice. In theory, you could haul your own animal with you, but the animals were supposed to be without blemish, and Temple authorities would stop everyone at the gate and inspect their animal. Without fail, they would find something wrong with your sacrifice, and compel you to buy one of their own.
Not a bad racket, eh?
Jesus is upset at these guys gouging pilgrims on what is supposed to be a spiritually enlightening experience.
The last thing he was pissed at was that the Court of the Gentiles, the outermost court of the Temple grounds, were supposed to be a place for non-Jews to come, meditate, pray, and take part in the Passover even though they were not Jewish. The Court of the Gentiles was supposed to be a meeting place for all nations, but instead it had become a marketplace. And a crooked one, at that!
So maybe we can see now why Jesus was angry. With all these obstacles placed before the pilgrim, how could he/she ever hope to find solace or spiritual growth?
I makes me think of what we are all going through this Lent. We all have something going on: a fight with a friend or family member, a grudge we are holding, a secret fear, depression, anxiety, grief, hopelessness. On the other side of the coin, we might have too much money, too many toys, too many distractions. All of these things can be obstacles. Some of these problems are fresh; some of us have been grappling with these same problems for years
As material beings, we have a problem: we are always bogged down with the material. I am not saying we should all live in la-la land, reality is a great place to be, but throughout the ages, the sages and wise men and women of the world have all had pretty much one clear lesson: you can't fill the hole in your spirit with stuff.
So when will you and I get as mad as Jesus? When will you and I say, "Enough of this. I have no room for this in my Temple, I am tired of it being there, and I am kicking it to the curb!"?
Yeah, I know it is not as simple as that. Saying you are sick of being depressed, for example, does not cure you. You have to go out and seek professional help. But deciding that your Temple is no place for that crap is the first step to cleansing the Temple.
I hope that this Lent is a time when you are finding the sacred in your life, and that you are finding the courage to overturn the obstacles we put in our own way or the ones that have been forced upon us.
I hope this Lent, you are courageous and angry enough to cleanse your own Temple.