The WORD in other words (2022) by Fr Jose Bagadiong SVD (USC, Cebu City)
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica — November 9
Image Source – Wikimedia Commons
Gruesome atrocities inflicted by humans on fellow humans, like the Maguindanao massacre, trigger outrage in us. Outrage is a sense of shock and intense anger caused by morally unacceptable and abominable actions. Others would call it righteous anger. Still others believe outrage is a good thing because it is a sign, an expression of empathy and compassion. Thus, the absence of outrage when faced with a clear and present evil or injustice is considered abnormal, irregular, insensitive, even callous.
Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is a case of outrage in action. He blew his top and became violent. It is a clear departure from the usually meek and mild Jesus portrayed in the gospels. For some, this may be a bit shocking and scandalous, but should it be?
Jesus was confronted with a double whammy. Unscrupulous merchants in cahoots with Jewish religious leaders were taking advantage of the great Passover festival to make money from the many ordinary, poor, and vulnerable Jewish pilgrims.
The twin practices of offering animal sacrifice and paying the obligatory temple tax were the sources of corruption. On the latter, the Law required payment of the temple tax in the local currency such that moneychangers would exact exorbitant exchange rates. On the former, according to the Law, devotees have to offer animal sacrifice; and also, according to the Law, the animals must be unblemished. If they brought animals from outside, they have to be inspected by appointed Temple officials, and chances are, after the inspection, their animals will be rejected.
The pilgrims were basically blackmailed into buying animals from the Temple booths at ridiculous prices if they wished to make a sacrifice at all. They made a lot of money in an unjust and dishonest way, and they did it in the name of religion. They used religion to exploit the people – this is what outraged Jesus. Not the selling and money-changing as such.
The Temple was desecrated. True worship comes from a reverent and sincere heart, not the outward expressions, not the strict “to-the-letter” observance of the Law of Moses. For Jesus, the spirit of the Law, which is to love God with all your heart and love your neighbors as yourself, was much more important than following the Law word by word.