TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM
King Herod the Great had reconstructed the Temple used during Jesus’ time. That was the only place of animal sacrifice for the Jews. The Temple of Jerusalem had different sections. The most sacred place was the Holy of Holies, a dark place where only the High Priest entered once a year on the feast day of Atonement with a lamp to incense. This was the Ark of the Covenant’s location in the first Temple that King Solomon had built. The adjacent section was the Holy Place where the priests did the daily incensing before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice. The golden altar of incense was here. Only priests had access to the Holy Place, where there was also the menorah and the table of showbread. It was here that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah.
TEMPLE AND MONEY CHANGERS
Adult pilgrims offered half a shekel for the service of the temple. “Everyone who is enrolled, of twenty years or more, must give the contribution to the LORD. The rich need not give more, nor shall the poor give less, than a half-shekel in this contribution to the LORD to pay the ransom for their lives” (Ex 30:14-15). The Jewish faith did not allow the offering of coins with images in the Temple treasury. Pilgrims were coming from different countries with Syrian, Egyptian, or Greek coins. Such coins had the symbols or images of pagan monarchs. So, they were unacceptable for the Temple. The pilgrims had to exchange them for acceptable coins. Though it was supposed to be a service, great exploitation of the pilgrims was taking place by charging an enormous amount as an exchange fee. Jesus could not tolerate that exploitation.
JESUS BECAME FURIOUS AT THE TEMPLE
What made Jesus furious at the Temple was:
(1) The shift of merchandise from the Mount of Olives to the place of prayer for gentiles, making it a noisy and congested place.
(2) Exploitation of merchants with the cooperation of the high priests who were charging a high margin for the exchange of money.
(3) Merchants exploiting pilgrims by charging high price for sacrificial animals and birds.
(4) Priests unreasonably rejecting sacrificial animals the pilgrims brought from outside. The priests did such an unjust inspection to favor the animal salespersons in the temple. So, the genuine spirit of prayer and selfless service lacked. That made Jesus furious and function as a rebellious leader.
CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was an unusual physical protest of Jesus against the Jewish authorities for defiling the Temple. This is a reminder of the Maccabean Revolt from 167 to 160 BC led by the Maccabees against the misuse of the Temple by the Seleucid rulers and the corrupt Jewish priests under the Hellenistic influence. After victory over the Seleucid rulers and Hellenized Jews by rebellion and guerrilla wars against worship of Greek gods, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and cleansed the Temple and reestablished the traditional Jewish worship.
Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was also a revolt against the Jewish religious leaders who desecrated the premises of the Holy Temple for allowing trade at the Court of the Gentiles and financially exploiting the pilgrims. Like the priests during the Maccabean revolt were corrupt by bribery given to Seleucid rulers for their position, the clergy during Jesus’ public ministry were corrupt and unjust by bribery given to the Roman authorities. They also received bribery for the unjust merchants in the Temple.
For Jesus, the Temple was a sacred place for worship. The sales of sacrificial animals and money change were service that have been taking place away from the Temple at the Mount of Olives. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and we receive Jesus during the Holy Eucharist. Let us also keep our heart and our church holy.