Gospel Reflection Mar 7 – Sr. Teresa
Sunday, March 7
Third Sunday of Lent
John 2: 13 – 25
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.
Well, what do you think of this Gospel passage? What are your reactions?
Ironically, I was looking at this gospel passage at the same time I was listening to the news. They were reporting that the employees at Plantation Brewery walked off the job, and other employees did not turn up for their shift. They were protesting unsafe conditions and a few other issues they were experiencing at work, and I wonder how I would have felt if they said the employees waited until there were lots of customers and on their way out in protest, they overturned tables and started yelling at the customers to get out.
I come from a family that has participated in many strikes and walked picket lines, so my first tendency is to side with the workers. I have participated in protests and rallies — inside and outside churches, inside and outside of government buildings. I have walked in downtown streets, stood in front of prisons about to execute a person, to name a few. Clearly, I am not opposed to protests. I encourage peaceful protests.
It may help to have a bit of background about “money changers” in the Temple area. They were essential workers and an important part of Temple economy. Sacrifice and offerings were a required part of many Temple services. You might remember when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, they had to buy two pigeons. Many pilgrims came to Jerusalem and to the Temple and would not have the animals needed for sacrifice. They had to be purchased at the Temple. They needed to use the services of the money changers. People used the currency of Rome which was engraved usually with an emperor’s image. This currency could not be used in the Temple. The money changer would exchange Roman coins for the Temple coins. We do this at the Currency Exchange when we travel to other countries.
Then we have this gospel. Truthfully, if indeed, Jesus did this, then I would have to say he could have handled it differently! I believe in protesting injustice in both Church and civil arenas but not by using violence or destruction of businesses or property. According to John, Jesus used a whip, turned over tables and yelled for the money changers to get out. This outburst seems like something Peter would have done, not Jesus. Throughout all four gospels Jesus is non-violent. For me this passage written by John does not fit. Also, if he had done this, then he would have been arrested and put into prison by the Temple guards. If you were using the services of a Currency Exchange and felt that they were overcharging or not giving adequate exchange and you decided to whip the agent and turn over the counter, you would be very quickly arrested and put in jail or given a fine.
Often violence is used at protests to shift the focus from the fundamental reason for the protest. Jesus had reason to be angry. There was greed and corruption among some of the money changers. They were unfair in the exchange because they knew their customers had to have Temple coins and had to have animals for sacrifice. As a result, many overcharged and many skimmed off the top to fill their pockets as well as the Temple coffers. That was the reason for Jesus’ anger and the ways he chose to show that anger. In the way John writes it, we may focus on Jesus’ angry outburst and behavior and may totally miss the reason for his anger. The needless pressure being placed on people trying to follow Jewish religious customs by overcharging them or cheating them.
That also happens today. Sometimes when some protesters resort to violent acts, we and news media focus on the violence rather than the reason for the protest. Sometimes those opposed to the protest deliberately join the protest for the sole purpose of creating chaos and diversion. They may break windows, loot businesses or even set businesses on fire. They will use whatever means they can to cause some violence. That will shift or divert the focus from the injustice.
I don’t know John’s purpose in writing this passage but I have heard many homilists and preachers justify Jesus’s actions. I would not take that position. I think Jesus’ actions (if it really happened that way) were wrong and inappropriate. I wonder if it changed anything. What about the honest moneychangers in the Temple area that day? Were their tables upturned as well? What about those who needed the services of the money changers, what did they do?
On the other hand – maybe it happened exactly as John said. Perhaps Jesus was teaching us that it is vitally important to look underneath and beyond the violent actions. Important to look underneath the protest to discover and come to an understanding of what may be causing the rage. Then honestly and seriously ask ourselves, as a society or as a church if we are in any way complicit in the root cause.
One result we do know from this incident is that the plans to have Jesus arrested and killed intensified after this. Jesus was a threat to the economy of the Temple; he was a threat to power of the religious establishment and a threat to “peace” in Roman occupied Jerusalem. This will lead him to the cross and his crucifixion.
-Sister Teresa Tuite, OP
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