Weeok of April 15: Cleansing the Temple meant to change marketplace to house of worship


By the Rev. Doreen Smalls

 Scripture: John 2:13-22

     There is a television show on the Oprah Winfrey Network called “Extreme Clutter.” Peter Walsh, the show’s host and organization expert, helps families whose lives have been greatly impacted by excessive items. Walsh walks the family through a step-by-step process to remove the extreme clutter and transform their lives. 

     While many of us may not be hoarders or need professional assistance, there are some areas in our homes that need cleaning. Furthermore, there are spaces in our lives and hearts that need cleansing.

 Passover in Jerusalem

     The second chapter of John’s Gospel records Jesus at the Jewish Passover celebration.  The Passover took place annually at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Every Jewish male was expected to make this pilgrimage and mandated to a Temple tax of one-half shekel each year. The tax could only be paid in Tyrian shekels, a coin that had no images of persons on it. This kept with the commandment against the creating of graven images (Exodus 20:4).

     Because the Temple tax had to be paid in local currency, visitors had to have their money changed. The moneychangers were allowed to legally charge a fee for the service they rendered. But they would often demand an exorbitant amount to exchange the currency, at least twice the amount of tax in order to receive the proper coins.  

     Persons were also required to bring an unblemished, spotless or pure animal to the Temple for sacrifice. This was difficult for persons traveling from Rome or Alexandria to transport a sacrificial lamb from a distance. So, it was better for the pilgrim to purchase an animal at the Temple. But they were taxed with unreasonable amounts as well for the “perfect” animal.  

     When Jesus arrived for the Passover, “he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at the tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. He told those were selling the doves, Take these out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2:14-16).

     The Temple was not being respected as a place of devotion and worship; instead it had been turned into a marketplace. Jesus wanted people to encounter God, not dishonest merchants. Jesus had a specific view of the Temple; he identified it as his “Father’s house.” It was not merely a temple or a building; it was his “Father’s house.”  Jesus took this personally and he insisted on a change. His actions were intended to restore God’s central place in worship and in the lives of the people. 

     What can help us recognize our need for restoration and re-creation? Is there anything in our houses of worship today that fills up our space and keeps us from worship?  Is there anything cluttering your heart that prevents you from truly worshiping God?

 What gives you the right?

     Jesus’ actions caused a great of deal of chaos and confusion. Both merchants and the visitors were quite stunned and disturbed by this disruption. The Jews questioned Jesus’ authority by asking for a sign.

     Jesus responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).  The Jews did not comprehend Jesus’ reply. They thought he was referring to the physical Temple they were presently occupying. We know that Jesus was pointing to himself, his crucifixion and resurrection. 

     Jesus’ behavior was unlike anyone had seen before. This was not the time for cordial conversations or diplomatic discussions. His aggression exhibited the way he felt about the Temple, which was being desecrated: that needed to change. 

     Here we do not see the humble teacher or healer, but we see the prophet who demanded a transformation. He wanted to bring holiness and reverence back to the Temple. What does this tell us about Jesus?