The Gospel writer John moves the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus to the very beginning of his telling of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is an interesting and important placement of this account of Jesus showing deep emotion and love for God's house and what transpires therein.
To briefly set the scene: in the forecourt of the Temple money-changers made their living (who charged for their service of moving money from one currency to another). Also in that courtyard area were people selling "sacrifices": cattle, sheep and doves we are told. These sacrifices would then be given to the priests by the purchasers as an offering to God in the inner sanctuary. (This is a rough telling of how this worked - it was more involved with more money changing hands than actual praying going on.) So Jesus walked into this market place of commerce and greed and reacted very strongly.
You see, people were supposed to be offering sacrifices, something meaningful and from their personal selves and wealth and heart. The act was meant to mean something and to not be easy. What Jesus witnessed was pro-forma acts of worship surrounded by an economic system taking advantage of those rituals, all cheapening the idea of sacrifice. And in John's Gospel, Jesus knows from the get-go where he is headed and the sacrifice demanded of his humanity: in fact Jesus references his death and resurrection right after his chasing the blasphemers from the Temple.
Jesus acted with a sense of righteousness and zeal, trying to wake the people up. Jesus is saying God doesn't want pro-forma, unmeaningful acts. God wants our sacrifice to be just that, something meaningful and true and hard. I think this is why this is one of my favorite Gospel accounts, for it is a tangible reminder of what we, as the Body of Christ in the world today, should be trying to emulate. We won't make many friends, but we will be assisting in the making of the kingdom.
Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.