Lethal Jesus, mad and riled – Friday, 33rd week in ordinary time – Luke 19:45-48
The first act of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke upon the completion of his journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27) is to enter the temple and take possession of it. Now the Temple is really the temple! The temple was the place for true worship of God; for instruction on the meaning of God’s will and especially the place where God was present. The first act of Jesus, on entering the temple is to cleanse it.
The cleansing of the temple is found in all four Gospels; the Lucan account is the briefest. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus is protesting the lack of prayer in what ought to be the ground zero of prayer. Like the prophets, he speaks on God’s behalf and as God’s own Son. He stands as a counter-witness to all that is against truth, love and justice and as such inevitably incurs the anger and hostility of those who have power.
John W. Everett once said, “Carnal men are content with the ‘act’ of worship; they have no desire for communion with God.” In today’s text we see how true this statement is and can feel the growing tension as Jesus forcefully challenges the way things were done in the holiest place of Judaism. It is so easy to lose sight of the real value of religious actions and rituals, ending up sometimes in shameful compromises.
So, what has got gentile Jesus so riled up?
This was Passover, the holiest and most important Jewish festival which means only one thing; there were pilgrims flocking to Jerusalem in droves. According to Exodus 30:11–16, every Israelite, twenty years and above was required to pay an annual temple tax of a half-shekel into the treasury of the sanctuary. Some scholars say this amount was equivalent to two days of a laborer’s wage.
Due to the enormity of the Roman Empire, many types of currencies were in circulation. Since only special temple coins were acceptable, moneychangers could charge a fee for the necessary exchange. Moneychangers could make handsome profits at the expense of the people. This exchange became a source of extortion for the High Priest’s family who personally controlled it. In reality, it amounted to a public bazaar and was even nick named Annas’ courtyard.