Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Like this post? Check out the (upgraded and expanded) full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

The day after the triumphal entry, Jesus came back to Jerusalem and the very first thing he did was put the smackdown on the moneychangers and sellers of animals in the temple courtyard. Apparently it didn't stick the first time, and Jesus knew that it would stick the 2nd time. But perhaps Jesus wanted to make a point, to put his Father's House in order, in the knowledge that it would remain in order as long as he was in the city. Perhaps Jesus wanted to die with his Father's House swept clean, once again a house of prayer for all nations, not a den of thieves.

There were no more crowds today. Everyone was already in Jerusalem, and we entered quietly. Jesus led us straight to the temple, and we stopped at the outskirts of the Court of the Gentiles. As we stood there, I began to feel what Jesus must have felt yesterday. The noise was incredibly loud—the money-changers sitting at their tables, the merchants shouting to the passers-by their wares and offers, not to mention the noise of what they were selling, the sheep and the oxen and the doves. The smell of all the animals was horrible, and manure littered the marble floor. The courtyard was full of people bustling around, buying, selling, exchanging. Those who wanted to worship in the Temple had to weave in and out of the tables and merchants and piles of manure: I felt sorry for the Gentiles who could not do even that, who had to stay out here and try to worship in the midst of this... this...
            Before I could finish my thought, I realized that Jesus was gone.[1] I looked around, spotting him just in time to see him kicking over the low table of the nearest money-changer, leaving Jesus face-to-face with the money changer himself.
The man jumped up, shouting and waving his hands, and his shouts of outrage rang out in the sudden silence of the courtyard, as everyone in the area stopped what they were doing and turned.  But then the man’s face went pale and his shouts died as he recognized the man who just yesterday had been hailed by the entire city as a savior. Maybe he even recognized Jesus from that first time, years ago, when Jesus had actually taken a whip to them.[2] But the man stood there only for an instant more before mumbling apologies and fading back into the crowd. The coins from the table had not even stopped rolling before Jesus moved on to another table, kicking that over as well, and then the spell of silence was broken, and the entire courtyard burst into noise and frantic movement. Several of the money-changers began to hurriedly pack up their things, only to find Jesus already there, overturning their tables and scattering their coins. No one moved to stop Jesus: no one dared.
Jesus moved quickly, here kicking over a table, there upsetting the animals and driving them out of the courtyard, all the while shouting “Get out!” But it was not chaotic or random. He never pushed anyone who was already leaving, and he did not harass those who were actually there on Temple business. It was only when the courtyard was almost empty of the buyers and sellers that I realized that we, the disciples, had done nothing. We were still standing, frozen, where Jesus had left us. We watched Jesus in stunned silence as he stood still, in the middle of a wide circle empty except for the broken tables and fallen coins. He was breathing hard, and his face was tight and stern. And when he spoke, he was clear and distinct, each word crisp and sharp.
            “Is it not written,” he cried, turning to glare at all who were watching him, “that ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers!” The people he had driven out had stopped at the edge of the courtyard, grouping together and talking angrily among themselves. But when Jesus spoke, some of them became ashamed, and the others, seeing that the people supported Jesus, began to leave quietly. Most of the others, those who had not been selling, were listening with bowed heads. Jesus continued.  “This will not continue! This is a place of prayer and worship. You will not buy or sell or cheat or swindle here! Nor will you carry anything through here!” I could see, at the edge of the crowd, some who were carrying goods. When Jesus said this, they turned and began to go around. They clearly did not want Jesus to scatter their goods as well across the Temple floor.
            Jesus glanced around the crowd once more, gestured for us to join him, and began to clean the courtyard floor of what he had scattered. We began to help as well, some of us running to get brooms to sweep, and Judas took charge of gathering the coins, saying they would give it all to the poor. We continued working, but Jesus stood from his work and smiled when he saw a blind beggar carefully and reverently picking his way forward through the crowd. But it wasn’t just one beggar, I saw. It was all of them, all the beggars who made the temple their regular gathering place, [3] and they were all coming to see Jesus.
“Is Jesus still here?” the blind man asked, and Jesus himself answered him, with a touch to his eyes and a few words, and then the man opened his eyes, joy and surprise competing over his face. But before he could thank Jesus, Jesus had moved on to a lame man, dragging himself across the courtyard, and after that to another blind man. Jesus healed them all. It reminded me of one of our very first nights in Galilee, when all the cripples of the area had showed up on my doorstep. As then, Jesus healed all who came to him, and after there were no more to be healed, he taught until it was dark.

[1]This event taken from Matthew 21:12-14, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-46.
[2] Lenski (Matthew 812) advises against conflating the cleansing of the temple recorded in John 2:13-22 with the cleansing recorded in Luke 19:45-47, Matthew 21:12-16, and Mark 11:15-18. Religious authorities challenge him in John’s narrative, but not in the synoptics. The wording and tone differs between John and the synoptics, and in John the words are Christ’s own, whereas in the synoptics he quotes scripture. MacArthur (Matthew16-23 267) and Hendriksen (Matthew 769) say the same. Given the weight of evidence and opinion, I have treated them as two separate events.
[3]MacArthur notes that the “diseased and crippled, most of whom were necessarily beggars, continually gathered at the temple” (Matthew 16-23, 271).

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