Commentary on Luke 19:45-48
Luke tells us very briefly of the scene where Jesus, now in Jerusalem, drives the traders from the courts of the Temple. “‘My house is meant for a house of prayer’,” says Jesus quoting from Isaiah (56:7) and Jeremiah (7:11) respectively, “but you have turned it into ‘a den of thieves’.”
The trading took place in the outer court, also known as the Court of the Gentiles, and, as is not unusual in such situations, prices could be grossly inflated. John speaks of a cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (2:13-25) but in the other three gospels it takes place at the end. Two possible explanations have been given. Either there were two cleansings or, more likely, John moved the story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry for theological reasons. He wanted to show Jesus as Messiah right from the beginning whereas in the Synoptics Jesus’ identity as Messiah is only gradually revealed. There are also some differences in the various accounts. John mentions cattle and sheep and has Jesus use a whip made of cords. Matthew and Luke seem to indicate that the event took place on what we call Palm Sunday but for Mark it was on the following day (Mark 11:1-17).
Those coming to the Temple needed to buy animals for the sacrifices and they needed to change their Roman coins into acceptable Jewish currency (shekels) to make their contributions to the Temple. Jesus had no problem about that. What he objected to was that this business was being carried on inside God’s house when it could just as well have been done outside.
We all know how street traders try to get as close to the action as they can. However, there may be hints that priests in the Temple connived at this business and hence would certainly have profited from it. But Jesus (and probably others as well) felt that such business was not appropriate in a place dedicated to the worship of God.
It would be hard for us to imagine hawkers being allowed to set up stalls inside our churches, although the vendors of Sunday papers do get pretty close to the church doors.
Not surprisingly, the chief priests and the scribes – especially those who might have been involved in what must have been a lucrative business – were plotting how to get rid of Jesus who was upstaging their authority and accusing them of hypocrisy, greed and corruption. The chief priests, as members of the ruling Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, wielded great authority. But it was not going to be easy as the ordinary people continued to flock to Jesus and, as Luke tells us, “were hanging on his every word”.
Jesus is an example of the true prophet. He speaks as a messenger of God and is indeed God’s own Son. He stands as a counter-witness to all that is against truth, love and justice and as such inevitably incurs the anger and hostility of those who have power, power based on falsehood, on self-interest, corruption and injustice.
Our Church, in its communities and through individuals, is called on to continue that mission of counter-witness. It will win us the support and admiration of some but also the hostility, the anger and even the violence of others. This is something we should not at all be surprised at nor something we should try to avoid. Our only concern must be always to speak the truth in love. God will take care of the rest. Because, ultimately, truth, love and justice will prevail