Christ The Teacher: The Cleansing Of The Temple

The episode of the cleansing of the Temple is placed towards the end of Jesus’s public life in the Synoptic Gospels, and towards the beginning, in the Gospel of John.

The question of when it actually took place need not detain us here: what is important is to understand the meaning of what took place.

The story unfolds at two levels: the first is the corruption and commerce which greeted the devotee when he entered the Temple precincts.

It is this which dismayed Jesus. “You have made my Father’s house into a market !” he exclaims. Brandishing a whip of cords, and probably helped by his disciples, he chases the sellers of sheep and livestock out of the temple courts, and overturns the tables of the money changers.

Sad but true, religion often deteriorates into a matter of making money, and preying upon the susceptibilities of the devout. It is this that Jesus lashes out against. Talking to the Samaritan woman sometime later, he had pointed out that true worship of God was not a matter of going to this shrine or that, but of worship “in spirit and in truth”.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is shown to be in intimate union with his heavenly Father, and always obedient to his Father’s will. Seeing him in action driving away the money-changers, his disciples marveled: “zeal for his Father’s house has really consumed him!”

But the Temple officials weren’t amused. To them the Temple was a source of Jewish pride. King Herod had started its re-building, and this work had spanned forty-six years of craftsmanship and architectural majesty. The priests and their ministers challenge Jesus, and demand to know ‘by whose authority’ he had taken such action. The action now moves to a second level.

Jesus replies in cryptic form: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it again.” It wasn’t the Temple of stone Jesus was referring to – though later at his trial, witnesses would twist these very words as a charge of blasphemy against him – he was referring to his body, and his forthcoming death and resurrection. His disciples remembered his words much later, and understood them anew.

These words too re-affirm the life of the Spirit which is Jesus’s gift to all those who believe in him. If our worship of God is genuine, it transcends place and time. However impressive a church, however beautiful a shrine, the decor is secondary. What is primary is the way the Spirit is present. Jesus who has risen from the dead lives in the hearts of all believers, and it is his Spirit who makes of their prayer an acceptable offering to the Father.

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