In today’s gospel, we have the famous passage of Jesus driving out the merchants and money changers from the temple in the week before His crucifixion. There were certain requirements for animals that had to be sacrificed at the Jewish feasts, and if you traveled a long way, or your animal failed to meet the requirements, there was a market of livestock from which you could purchase an approved animal. Unfortunately, similar to concessions at major sporting events, or food beyond airport security, the convenience of the animal meant that the sellers could get away with gouging the prices. 

However, Jesus takes exception to this greed. He takes the time to make a whip (some translations say braid), indicating that he had meditated on his act of righteous anger. Then He flipped tables and drove out both money changers and livestock, accusing them of making His Father’s house a marketplace and a den of thieves. Worship of God was being taken advantage of by greed, and Jesus would not let it continue. 

We have to ask ourselves: If Jesus is seen as a gentle figure when he deals with sinners (woman caught in adultery, woman at the well, Zaccheus, etc), why does this instance lead Him to seeming premeditated anger?

It seems that Jesus is often forcefully corrective toward the self proclaimed righteous. Thus when he encounters hypocrisy or sin in religious leaders, He tends to have to take a firm disposition. A religious leader, especially in that day, was used to telling others what they were doing wrong. Thus, when it came to receiving criticism, they often lacked the humility to receive it. Jesus resorts to a showy act of anger to get their attention. While broken sinners often need healing to hear the voice of God, the prideful usually need a wakeup call. Yet, how Jesus reacts is always out of love. Proverbs tells us that “He who spares the rod, hates his son.” Whether it is gentleness drawing a sinner back to Him, or correcting a righteous person to redirect them on the correct path, Jesus is always working for the eternal good of each person. 

We know that there was injustice in the temple marketplace because at the end of the passage, it tells of how many people came to believe in Him because of His signs (the cleansing of the temple being one of them). People approved of Jesus’ rampage meaning he was truly acting justly in a ‘draining the swamp’ moment. Yet, Jesus does not trust Himself to the crowd because He knew their nature. We can surmise that many of the people who approved of this action were happy in their hearts  with what Jesus did not because He was restoring holiness to the temple, but because he was protecting their pocketbooks. Thus those who enjoyed Jesus’ signs were often not doing so out of piety, but rather self interest as evidenced when they no longer support Jesus in his trial with Caiaphas and eventually Pilate. 

But why does Jesus resort to such physical violence? This is the characteristic of the greed of a city. It violently opposes God’s will. Often, the culture and structure of a city is centered around many individuals living in the same area concerned with self-advancement. This is in direct opposition to what God desires for His people (self-giving, even to the point of death). We see this most apparent in the Tower of Babel where the people are building to make a name for themselves. Even though God’s temple was in the city of Jerusalem, it was not exempt. Its tortured history in the Old Testament tells of its struggle to leave selfish desires behind in favor of devotion to God. However, as is evidenced by the prophets that the brass of Jerusalem had killed, it failed to rid itself of greed and lust for power. 

Jesus knows the hearts of the people in a large city, and He does not trust Himself to them. This is why Jesus starts his ministry in the small towns of Galilee, and why he is ultimately  condemned to death in a city. As God, their self interest cannot exist while He is present. So while they accept Him now because He has aided their self interest in the temple, they will eventually reject Him unless they renounce their self interest. 

This leads us to reflect. In what areas of our lives do we ignore or remove Jesus because of our self interest? If we are honest with ourselves, we know that there are plenty of areas that we would rather keep hidden from Jesus. However, whether we like it or not, one day Jesus will burst in, trying to cleanse those areas for us. Will we accept this cleaning (even if it is painful) or will we remove Jesus just as the people of Jerusalem did?