The Cleansing of the Temple story is always one which attracts a lot of questions, usually about Jesus’ anger. In exploring this reading with students I have frequently been asked, ‘did Jesus sin by getting angry?’ or, they express their shock that Jesus appears to be acting out of character, without just cause. But, there is more depth to this story.
Unlike the synoptic gospel writers, John places this scene right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, almost as a clear and unquestionable sign of where Jesus stands on systemic injustice and inauthenticity.
Lent calls us to examine ourselves, our lives and our attitudes in order to gauge our authenticity. For me, this story has many possible interpretations, but there is one I return to: Jesus understood the deep authenticity of the poor and was angered, righteously, at the ways in which they were systemically exploited.
The Temple was a place where the Jewish people were called to worship. It was the holy place, where all could relate to God. In order to buy animals for sacrifice, worshippers would use the Temple currency. When they came to the Temple they would exchange their money. As someone who travels, I appreciate the disappointment experienced when you get less money than you are exchanging! This was the exploitation of the poor which was happening in the Temple. This, coupled with the context of it taking place in God’s house of prayer, led Jesus to take a strong stand against such hypocrisy.
We all have the choice to see the poverty in people, to see their authenticity, and we have the choice whether to exploit it or not, and to stand up against it when we see it – done to ourselves or others. We also have the choice to be authentic. People can often struggle to side with the authentic, as it usually doesn’t have the same worldly payoff; Jesus will pay the ultimate price for this by the end of the gospel, and by the end of our Lenten journey.
In our lives, we will meet many inauthentic people, often those who are close to us or are part of our daily encounters; some will be leaders, or people we have trusted, and we will struggle to hold our authenticity against their power. But, Jesus teaches us here, that there is nothing like standing in the holy place of your own authentic truth, to bring the peace the world cannot give.
Thanks for reading!