Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers." Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
Now that Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem the leadership struggle begins. He is immediately in conflict with the authorities. They claim to be the rightful leaders of God's people, but Jesus denies this at every step. He could not have chosen a more symbolic way of doing it than by cleansing the Temple. It was this act that drove the authorities to take action against him.
The custom Jesus attacks is the selling of various items necessary for sacrifice: animals, wine, oil, salt, and doves. Money changers also took Roman and Greek coins and exchanged them for the half-shekel temple tax required by the Law (Exodus 30:11-14). The exchange had a built-in surcharge.
Luke does not go into the details of the physical attack but goes straight to Jesus’ reason for the attack, “It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers." Matthew 21 and Mark 12 give the details. “He 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.” There were many synagogues but there was only one Temple. To imagine the impact we would have to think of someone entering the Vatican, overthrowing the tables of those who sold medals and religious pictures and statuettes, and going on to smash up the computers in the Vatican bank. What would happen? The Swiss Guard would swing into action with their ornamental weapons: their halberds, their double-headed axes, and their flame-bladed swords. However, they would be ably assisted by the vigilanza, a modern security/police corps. Reinforcements might be called in from the carabinieri, and the guardia di finanza. At the end of the day Jesus would have less success than he had in the Temple.
That Temple was levelled by the Romans in the year 70 AD. So does it matter to us? Yes. The Temple, Meister Eckhart said in a well-known passage, is now the human soul. “So like Himself has God made the human soul that nothing else in heaven or on earth, of all the splendid creatures that God has so joyously created, resembles God so much as the human soul. For this reason God wants this temple cleared, that He may dwell there.” Given half a chance, Jesus is still capable of causing a great deal of trouble in the Temple. Have your halberds at the ready!
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