In reply to the admittedly rather pompous What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD?) logo thing, many people say, “Get angry and turn over a few tables.” But in the satisfaction of a clever, and likely justifiable response, we mustn’t lose sight of what Jesus was up to when He made a whip, and threw out the money changers.
There are a number of alternative readings for today, and the alternative Gospel reading is about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. At first it seems the two readings have absolutely nothing in common, but when we look a bit closer, and go a bit deeper, we are returned to the repeating theme of Jesus as the Bridegroom.
I know, I do have a great interest in Christ as Bridegroom, but the theme is so strong throughout Scripture both Old and New Testament, that I think we need to look at it.
The Temple is built on the model of a man and a garden; it was the place where Israel would call God Adonai (Beloved husband). But Israel blew it and was scattered among the gentiles and the Temple was destroyed. By the time Jesus comes to the Temple there is only Judea, made up of Judah (Jesus’ Tribe) and Benjamin, with some Levites (Jesus also had the Levitical priesthood in His family) and a few scattered Israelites, here and there. The new Temple is magnificent, perhaps not as magnificent as Solomon’s but pretty stunning nevertheless. If we look at it through the eyes of typology, Solomon was a type of Christ as he built the Temple and a type of antichrist when he abandoned it for the gods of his numerous wives.
Herod the Great was an actual antichrist as he actively sought to kill the baby Jesus. His temple may have been magnificent on the outside, but with holy of holies was cold and empty.
But it was still God’s house and people came to pray there. The court of Israel would be full of Jewish men and the court of women would have the women and children behind the grill. beyond that was the court of the gentiles, where those who were not Jewish but had a love of God could come and pray. Even so there were signs warning the gentile worshipper he could not move further into the temple on pain of death. So the court of the Gentiles was all he had. And it was in this court that the money changers and animal sellers had set up their market. If you want to make people quite sure they are not welcome, fill up their prayer space with cacophony and animal poo. There was undoubtedly some dodgy dealing going on as well.
Jesus was angry. As the bridegroom seeing His bride mistreated or turned to prostitution, He cleaned house for her. There is even some speculation that He may have done this more than once. Just as the wives are sweeping and cleaning house ready for Passover, so Jesus does the same, making space for the Gentiles to be welcomed home like the prodigal son.
The authorities of the Temple; those who sit in and around the seat of Moses, with the priesthood God gave them in the desert after the Golden Calf incident – are standing firm against the Bridegroom. They may not have made a golden calf like their ancestors, but they have a huge one in their soul.
Jesus speaks His prophecy before them. “Tear down this Temple,” He said of Himself, “And in three days I will raise it.”
The priests mutter and shout about this, pointing out that the building has taken more than a generation to build. And yet when we reach the Passion we hear them complain to Pilate that Jesus had promised to rise from the dead; so they understood Him very well. Even so, they rejected Him.