I remember seeing part of the BBC drama The Passion a couple of years ago. It showed the great cleansing of the temple scene.
It was bizarre. Jesus walks into the middle of the Temple courtyard and lets out a dove. And smiles enigmatically at the High Priest Caiaphas.
That was it.
And I was left wondering was that it?
Was that all he did?
That was enough to get crucified for?
They kill you for being a member of the RSPCA?
The reality is somewhat different.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:“ ‘My house will be calleda house of prayer for all nations?But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’.”The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 12:15-19, NIV)
You wonder don’t you?
Well don’t you?
Where were the disciples in all this?
What were they thinking?
Because they aren’t mentioned in this episode. Well they are mentioned as having arrived with Him in Jerusalem. But not a word about what they were doing whilst Jesus was driving out those who were buying and selling.
What were they thinking?
Were they waiting to see if “this was it”. If this was the moment that Jesus would declare that he was the Messiah. That the revolt would finally start? That the Temple would be cleansed and the people rise up against the hated Romans?
Because if that is what he wanted to do it didn’t work did it? And his disciples didn’t join in either – so surely they must have at the least been bewildered.
But just as the BBC sanitised the text so, too often, do we. Often the emphasis has been on Jesus wanting reform of the system. Wanting to purify the Temple. Wanting good governance. It’s why there is always an argument in a church whether you can have a bookstall that sells books on a Sunday (or indeed a Fairtrade stall).
In fact Jesus’ problems with the Temple were so much bigger and more fundamental.
Jesus quotes two old testament passages. The first is part of a larger piece which talks of people from all nations streaming to the Temple and the second talks of the Temple as a “den of robbers” which is a quote from Jeremiah where the destruction of the Temple is talked about.
Jesus didn’t want to “reform” the Temple. He didn’t want to take over the running of it. He wanted to abolish it.
And in what he does in the Temple he “acts out” a parable of judgement. A judgement on what the Temple has turned into.
Jesus challenges the religious authorities by telling them that they are wrong.
That they have gone down the wrong route.
The charge against the Temple is that it has forgotten what it was there for.
It has forgotten what it is supposed to symbolise.
The Temple was never intended by God to be exclusive. It was never intended to feed a clique. Rather the people of God were supposed to feed the world.
The Temple was supposed to be there for the whole world. That is why Jesus quotes from Isaiah
Jesus’ charge was that the Temple had gone so badly wrong that the only solution was its destruction.
It was to be replaced by people focussed on being communities, groups, followers of Himself. People who would be welcoming, not just welcome people who were part of those seen as “acceptable”.
No wonder the disciples were confused. Because the truth is you can’t always be sure which side of an argument Jesus is likely to fall down on.
But when the Church acts like the Temple, exclusive and too sure of itself then you can always know that it is likely to be on the wrong side of the argument.
No wonder they looked to kill Him and why most of us might at least on occasion want to join in.
No wonder the disciples kept quiet. Following this Jesus could lead you anywhere.
Other Holy Week Meditations: