“Christ driving the Money-Changers from the Temple”
National Gallery of Art
Christ's expulsion of the money-changers who were desecrating the Temple in Jerusalem was a favourite theme in Counter-Reformation Art. To Catholics, it symbolized the purification of the Church through internal reform and the expulsion of heretics. Known for his uniquely Mannerist style, El Greco used jarring lines, confused spacing, and illogical lighting in this composition, contributing to the atmosphere of anger and disruption. In 1577 El Greco settled permanently in Spain. A native of Crete, he became known as ‘El Greco’ (the Greek), but here he signs his name in Greek letters on the step below Christ. In the lower right-hand corner, ‘El Greco’ portrayed the four artists he regarded as the giants of the Renaissance: Titian, Michelangelo, Giulio Clovio and Raphael. ‘El Greco’ was not only a painter who portrayed religious subjects, he was a profoundly religious man who wrote “the language of art is celestial in origin and can only be understood by the chosen”. He believed he was created by God to fill the world with his religious masterpieces.
Lectio John 2: 13-25
13“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’ 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’. 18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’. 20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone”.
Context Although Saint John places this event in the Temple at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, the other three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke placed it at the end of His ministry. Evidently the incident fits in much better at the end of Jesus' ministry, given that it is a natural succession to the outstanding courage of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and the inevitable prelude to the Passion. If we have to choose between John's dating and the dating of the other three Evangelists, we would choose the dating of the latter. Why then, does this incident appear at the beginning of the Gospel of John? We know that the Gospel of John is more focused on telling the truth about Jesus rather than giving a chronological biography of the Messiah. Again, it is possible that when John died, his Gospel was not yet finished, and his Community placed the passage here rather than at the end of the Gospel.
This passage of the Gospel of John helps us to deepen our understanding of God. We have to leave aside false images of God, and direct our attention on to Him who says to Moses in the First Reading: “I am the Lord your God” . In the Gospel of John, Jesus confronts those who were selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting at their counters in the Temple … who were preventing the People of Israel from entering into a real encounter with His Father. What was actually taking place there was the buying and selling of ‘divine’ favours. In the middle of a second Season of Lent enduring the scourge of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we are invited to rid ourselves of all false images of God, and particularly our tendency to attempt to bargain with Him.
Expelling the sellers and the animals from the Temple
The story of Jesus expelling the people selling in the Temple is an important point of reference at the beginning of the Gospel of John. It is the first time John speaks about Jesus wanting to introduce a new concept of the Messiah. Jesus desires a new relationship with God, a new sacrifice, a new Cult. We should note that Jesus also expels the animals that had become an ‘essential’ part of the old Cult. Jesus ‘drove them all out’… ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market’. We can see in this passage of John a prophetic act on the part of Jesus and not the action of a Messiah seeking political power.
Prophetic act against a ‘Religion’ without heart
This scene of Jesus in the Temple underlines the fact that we cannot buy God’s favour. Through this action Jesus condemns a ‘Religion’ without faith, without spirituality and without heart following in the footsteps of the Prophet Jeremiah, who had already railed against the name of the Lord being used to justify many wrong things in the Temple. Jeremiah had condemned the cult and the prayer of a religion that was empty and had no meaningful impact on the daily life of people. Jesus wants the new heart and the new spirit of which Ezekiel prophesied.
“Destroy this Sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up”
This episode in the Gospel of John is seen in Christian Tradition as the reason for the death sentence being imposed on Jesus. It signifies the opposition of the Jews to Jesus. He is announcing a new Religion where what it is important is to give one’s life for the Other. When Jesus was talking about the destruction of the Temple he was making reference to his death and resurrection. He will die on the Cross for all of humanity. In this episode Jesus offers his life as a sacrifice in the name of ‘the living God’.
Jesus greatly upset the leaders of the Jews by telling them that all the Temple’s magnificence and splendour, and all the money and skill that had been lavished upon it, were completely superfluous. He had come to show His people a way to God without any reference to the Temple. Our contact with the God and Father of Jesus Christ, our approach to Him, our entry into His presence are not dependent on anything that our minds can devise or our hands can build.
In the home, on the street, at work or in church, we have our inner Temple, the presence of the Risen Lord is forever with us. Jesus offers us a religion of life: of self-offering for the love of God.
“Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple”.
Anger is an emotion that of itself is neither right nor wrong. In our world there are surely things that we should get angry about. Jesus, for example, particularly dislikes injustice and inequality. Do we feel indignant at the structures of a civilization that makes the poor ever poorer, and the rich even richer? How might I express my righteous indignation in this regard?
Saint Paul writes, ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?’ This time of Lent is given to us to be cleansed of all that is not ‘God-like’ within us.
As Temples of the Holy Spirit, let us praise God for giving us such wonderful dignity, for making us ‘earthen vessels’ that contain the treasures of God’s Spirit.
Jesus signed his own death warrant when he cast the money-changers out of the Temple. This prophetic action on His part was aimed at breaking down the wall that divided rich and poor, believers and foreigners, in the Jerusalem of his time. The action was accompanied by a prophetic Word that will anticipate the words Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well: “I tell you, the time will come when you will adore the Lord in Spirit and in Truth”.
The glory of God is the desire of Jesus to end exploitation of the poor, to break down the barriers that divided people one from another (Jews and Gentiles, men and women, sinners and the righteous, sick and healthy, … ).
In our prayer today might remember all those who suffer and whose lives are endangered because of their commitment to justice and right ‘Religion’.
 Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46  Exodus 20: 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the House of bondage”.  John 2:15  Jeremiah 7: 11: “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord”.  Ezekiel 36: 25-26: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you, shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you”.