Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Matthew 21: 12- 17.
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry 16 and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
The pictures used in this blog come from the book of the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2010 which Ray and I went to see. One of the memorable moments of the performance was the scene where Jesus cleansed the temple. Right there on stage, in the midst of the shouting and the turmoil, the sacrificial doves were released. They flew up over the performers and out into the evening. It was visually very moving.
The question that we’re being invited to ask this Holy Week is ‘who is this?’ Who is this Jesus who walks out centre stage in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and starts looking for trouble? All his actions on that day are provocative. He wants people to start asking that question – who is this?
First, he enters the city as a king, second, he stirs up the crowd. Third he enters the temple and causes a riot! This is not Jesus meek and mild. A golden haloed Jesus. This is Jesus choosing to make a heap of trouble. Choosing to draw attention to himself. This is Jesus very angry indeed.
This is Jesus who stands for justice, who stands for what is right and what is true. He exposes the money changers in the temple. How dare they hike the prices on the animals and birds being prepared for the Passover sacrifice. How dare they make it harder and more expensive for people to keep that holiest of feasts as they would want to do as an integral part of their faith.
This is Jesus who is holy. This is Jesus who will not and cannot keep silent. This is Jesus who is offended in his very being at the way the house of God is used – and who is not afraid to offend in turn. When he quotes the scriptures, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves,’ it is aimed at the chief priests. Those who have authority in the temple. Those who should be holding the things of God sacred for their people.
Yet even as this drama is taking place, we hear that the blind and the lame are coming to Jesus and he cures them. This is Jesus who welcomes, who is accessible to those who need him. This is Jesus who has compassion on the struggling and the suffering. This is Jesus the healer.
And all the while the children are running about, still singing and chanting Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the King of kings. In and out the pillars of the temple – you can just hear them can’t you! Children often have an annoying way of unintentionally making the point. In this case they unwittingly proclaim the truth and with no political agenda of their own. They are just singing the current song, God’s song.
Who is this Jesus? No wonder the scribes, the pharisees, the chief priests were thrown off balance. It was as though Jesus by his very presence had thrown a ticking bomb into their midst. About now it begins to dawn on them that they can’t afford for it to go off.
Jesus was not outside of politics; Jesus was not outside of suffering. He was right in the middle of it standing for justice and righteousness, exercising compassion. He’s a challenging figure now as then.
Holy God we pray that as we are Christians, those who chosen to follow Jesus, we will have the same courage to stand for what is right and for what is holy and the same selflessness to tend to those in need.