The scene of Jesus driving out the merchants and money changers from the temple makes for great dramatic re-enactment. In many of the films that have sought to present the life of the Messiah, this scene is often given a powerful interpretation and stands as that moment when his enemies finally resolve to do away with Jesus and to rid themselves of this ‘troublesome’ rabbi from the countryside.
Luke doesn’t present the scene in such high drama, but the message is clear enough – Jesus wants to led people to an undistracted sense of God , that is, to a prayerful and personal relationship with God. All else can be cast aside.
We need to hold onto this central truth lest we fall into traps in our thinking and in turn compromise our own relating to God.
For on the surface, and understood within the ‘logic’ of the world view of Jesus time, the driving out of the merchants and money-changers seems illogical and unwarranted. After all stalls supplying merchandise and food have always grown up around places of public gathering haven’t they? Is it unreasonable that people might buy a small animal (to sacrifice) close to the Temple itself rather than carrying it for miles? Surely people should be able to buy food to eat after attending the Temple? Why couldn’t they buy goods that might be available here and nowhere else? And more importantly (in its day) if they cannot use ‘sacrilegious’ Roman money within the confines of the Temple surely they can change this money into acceptable Jewish currency (in order to make their purchases or pay the temple tax)? And if one merchant shouting one rate of exchange makes more noise than another – who after all is offering a lower rate of exchange – surely one can ‘shop’ around til one finds the best rate?
And so on and so on…. and of course, it all makes sense if you follow only one line of reasoning and awareness. And today, like in 1st Century Palestine, it is so easy to slip into the rationale of the day, and be so focused on peripheral details and activities that one is completely distracted from the purpose of it all – the living of my life for God (who above all else desires to be worshipped only with a sincere heart!)
So we have the dramatic ‘casting out’ of the merchants and money changers.
Perhaps most of all the scene stands as a symbolic one for us.
How ‘crowded’ have I made my relationship with God? Have I so filled the space of my inner, or indeed external worlds, with incidental ‘extras’ – ideas, notions, preferences, even ‘beliefs’ that make sense to me, but are not required if I am to live my life for God according to the vision of Jesus.
Do I need to have my own ‘cleansing’ of my inner sanctuary or outer temple precinct and return to a more fundamental and foundational relationship to God?
Perhaps this can be food for my ‘examine’ (or personal reflection) for today?
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.