The evangelist Saint Luke’s account of the cleansing of the Temple is short. It is the briefest among the four evangelists. Luke does not mention that the things being bought and sold were animals: pigeons, oxen, and sheep. He does not mention that there were moneychangers as well as those who sold. Luke does not even mention that tables and seats were being overturned by Jesus.
Still, Luke gets the point across. This is a very forceful action by our dear Lord Jesus.
There is a popular internet meme. You do not need to know what a meme is to appreciate it. It says, “If someone asks ‘What would Jesus do?’ remind them that turning over tables and chasing people with a whip is a possibility.”
This is an astute saying. Christ is not always the nice, sanitized, tame Man that people often want Him to be. He is not always polite and gentle. He can be forceful and violent. He is not a pacifist.
To be sure, Christ is never unnecessarily violent, nor needlessly forceful. He is wise and always knows what is right. He is good and perfect, so that He never commits a single sin. So this violent action of Christ is not sinful. Nor is violence always sinful.
Still, sinners are too often sinfully violent. We have had enough shootings in our nation to know that. Although we are allowed to take forceful action in a vocation that calls for it, we humans too often act outside of our vocations. We trespass into behaviors that God has not given us to do.
On the other hand, sometimes we are supposed to act forcefully, and we do not. Sometimes our vocation demands that we take a strong stand in some way. If we then fail, we also commit sin.
When Christ cast out the sellers from the Temple, the words “cast out” are the same words used when He cast out demons from people who were possessed. In a similar way, a demonic influence had invaded the Temple. Sin had permeated God’s house of prayer. Christ was rightfully acting to cleanse His house from the wicked things going on there.
Christ says: “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer.’ This is a quote from Isaiah 56.
At the beginning of Isaiah 56, the Lord Yahweh says, “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon My Salvation will come, and my Deliverance will be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” The word “Salvation” used by the Lord is practically the Name “Jesus,” meaning, the Lord saves. “Salvation is coming,” really means “Jesus is coming,” especially since Jesus quotes this chapter in Isaiah in the context of His coming to the Temple.
Blessed are the Jews who were found reverently keeping the Sabbath when Jesus came. Since He became angry at the sellers in the Temple, it means that they were not found reverently keeping the Sabbath.
Isaiah also says, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the Name of the Lord, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant – these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” THAT is the quote of Jesus. It is taken from Isaiah’s words about Gentiles being brought into God’s house of prayer.
The sellers in the Temple were operating in the Court of the Gentiles. They were taking over the space that should have been used by non-Jews to pray. The commotion of the buying and selling and the animals was surely a distraction to any nearby worshiper. It showed a disdain and disregard of the need of Gentiles believers to fervently pray in God’s house. But the Lord had specifically said that His plan included bringing outsiders into His people.
Isaiah also adds, “His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all.” Here the Lord is pointing to the leaders of the people who had become corrupt, both in Isaiah’s time as well as that of Jesus. The corrupt leaders looked for their own gain instead of teaching the people, warning against sin, and caring for sheep. This problem is also sometimes shared by the later Church: Leaders forget their calling and think only of their own appetites.
The chief priests and scribes lacked reverence for the house of God. Instead of humbly listening to the Word Incarnate, instead they were following their own agenda of seeking to destroy Christ. He was daily teaching in the Temple, restoring it to its proper use. But the chief priests and scribes and chief men of the people were seeking to destroy Him. They failed to be about the business of pious believers, which is to hang upon the Word of the Lord.
The Lord grant us to diligently give attention to His Word. Instead of pursuing our own priorities that lead us astray, the Lord open our ears to listen to the Word in human flesh, who speaks His Gospel in His house of prayer.
Under the corrupt Jewish leadership, the house of God became a den of robbers. This caused Christ to take drastic action. For the sake of the sheep, He had to cleanse the Temple.
Yet it was a temporary fix. The Temple was ultimately doomed. It had to be replaced.
Jesus is now God’s House of prayer. He actually was all along. Where He is is the true worship of God in the receiving of His gifts. If Christ is not there, there is no true worship.
Today there are many physical houses of God where believers gather around Jesus to hear His teaching. He bestows rich gifts: forgiveness of sins, salvation from death and the devil, and eternal life. Jesus teaches, and treasures of grace come to us.
Wherever faithful Christians are, they will gather around this Lord to hear Him. In this way, the Gentile nations are brought to God’s holy mountain, which is the Church, along with those faithful Jews who have believed in the Messiah.
The Lord keep us in this house, faithfully listening to His voice. Amen.
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