If there were tabloid newspapers at the time of Jesus, the headlines on the day after he cleared the Temple would have been full of words like ‘scandal’ and ‘madness’. The traders who exploited the poor by selling animals for sacrifice at inflated prices and charging huge commissions to change currency for visitors were an important sector of the economy. They were also a symptom of the corruption that had changed Israel from a people thanking God for the just laws meant to create a peaceful and harmonious community into a society where the laws had been turned into a system for oppressing the poor and lining the pockets of the rich.
The picture of Jesus causing a riot in the Temple, driving out traders and animals with a whip, scattering coins, knocking over tables and shouting at people, doesn’t sit comfortably with us. Surely the Jesus we were taught about, gentle Jesus, meek and mild, wouldn’t do anything like that? St Paul tells us that the Christ we preach is for some people an obstacle they can’t get over, for others a mad idea, but to those who have been called, the power and wisdom of God.
As we hear again the Ten Commandments, we can think about our own lives, as individuals and in our families, and reflect on how closely we’re following the way God has set out for us.
We can also think about our own society, in which cutting the benefits of the poorest, reducing taxes for the rich and keeping out foreigners have become vote-winning policies. As we approach a general election, our bishops are inviting us to think carefully about how we use our vote. Do we want to keep our country as it is, or do we want to change it? Are we going to vote for a party that will serve our own narrow interests, or for one that will serve the common good?
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple might also prompt us to think about the Church, and to pray for Pope Francis as he struggles, not just to reform the system at the centre of the Church, but to call us all back to the simple truth of our mission to reveal God’s love and mercy to everyone, and especially to those who are poor and weak.