The storm in the temple

Today’s world seems so to have so many unscrupulous money-changers, that we come to the gospel story already primed. As Jesus overturns tables and drives men out with a whip of cords, we are mentally shouting, “Good on you, Jesus! Go for it! Give them what they deserve!”

But were the money-changers in the temple actually criminals desecrating holy ground? Maybe not. These men were necessary. Crowds from all over the country poured into Jerusalem to prepare for Passover, and the people needed to pay temple tax – about half a shekel at that time.

They arrived at the temple with varied coins, some with Roman or Greek currency and they went to a money-changer as we would go to a currency exchange booth at an airport.

The temple money-changers were supposed to do their job honestly and with decorum, respecting the place where they worked. But on this day something went wrong.

Maybe Jesus and his friends were short-changed by a dishonest man. That would not surprise us. What is surprising is the extent of Jesus’ reaction.

Perhaps we should consider where Jesus was at this time in his life. He knew that his mission of love was coming to a horrible end. Soon he would be crucified by people’s hatred, and already he was carrying a cross of mental anguish.

Could he share this knowledge with anyone? The gospels tell us he tried, but his closest friends didn’t understand. They were still waiting for him to be the promised Messiah, a superman who would drive out the Romans.

We don’t know what triggered the incident at the temple; but I want to think this was the moment when the dam of emotion burst. This was the Son of God showing his humanity.

These days we know enough about personality types to understand that high-energy people, who have gifts of healing and leadership, will experience frustration when their energy meets an obstacle. Did this happen with Jesus?

In the gospels we see less dramatic examples that establish a pattern – Jesus’ impatience with the Pharisees and sometimes, with his disciples. “O ye of little faith!” When Peter was trying to protect his master, Jesus responded with, “Get behind me, Satan!”

And the money-changers in the temple courtyard? I want to believe that much of Jesus’ action came out of his own agony about his pending death. It wouldn’t take huge frustration to tip the balance on that day.

So why do I want to believe this? Because I am grateful for Jesus’ humanity. More often prayer focuses on Christ Jesus Son of the living God, Saviour of the World, King of endless glory. But if my thinking doesn’t allow him to also be fully human, then I put him at a distance.

I need two sides to prayer. I worship him in his divinity and love him deeply in his humanity.

Thank you, beloved Christ Jesus, for becoming one of us.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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