In our Gospel for today, in which we have John’s account of Jesus driving the money-changers and other merchants, I find at least two challenges.
One challenge has to do more perhaps with what this scene represents to people as it does with the scene itself. I think the image many of us have of this scene is an angry, righteous Jesus driving all those handling money and livestock out with a whip. We applaud this action of Jesus because He has driven out the evildoers from His Father’s house. And we can even see ourselves as the righteous driving out the ones who do wrong. There have been times when I have preached about nonviolence, and people will bring up to me this scene as an indication that there are times when violence is justified. This is a challenge to me, as I have become more and more convinced, especially by Jesus on the Cross (Our second reading from 1 Corinthians reminds us that in the Cross “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”), that violence is not the answer, except in self-defense.
Frankly, the best way I have to reconcile this for myself is to note that, even in His “zeal” for His Father’s house, there’s no indication that Jesus did serious physical harm to anyone, and that He did not return violence at the time when the greatest violence was done to Him. And as a far as justifying any violence that we might do, I will quote from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous: “We leave righteous anger to those best equipped to handle it.” For me, that would be Jesus, not myself.
Another challenge comes from what Jesus says as He is driving out the merchants: “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Again, we approve of Jesus’ words as it is so easy to see the wrong done by those making money off the people in the Temple. But before we get too self-righteous, perhaps we could reflect on this a little more. I take Jesus’ words as an indictment, if you will, of how we can often perceive our relationship with God. In our U.S. society, we often engage in transactions. This happens not only at the store, but at work and in politics. I will do this for you with the expectation that you will do this for me. Sometimes I think we see God as a heavenly vending machine: We will give donations, and perform various works, and then have the expectation that God will bless us in the manner we desire. The “money-changing” that we hope occurs is that our donations and works will be exchanged for blessings by God.
But when we fall into that “transactional” thinking, we get it backward! The good that we do, and the donations we make of “time, talent, and treasure,” are not coupons redeemable by God at the check-out line. The good that we do and the donations we make are responses to the blessings we have already received and continue to receive! I can only do good because of the good God has done for me in Jesus Christ!
The Gospel does call us to “zeal” for our Father’s house. But I don’t see that expressed as a rush to expel those whom we do not see as fit for our company. For me, I see it expressed in zeal for the mission that Jesus gave us – to spread the Good News. It would be expressed in a zeal for justice and peace and the building up of the kingdom. It would be expressed in a desire for communion, not only with God but with each other. And it would be expressed in a willingness to forego many of the ways of the world, which rely on violence and greed, and pick up the ways of Jesus, which involve service and sacrifice.
As I find myself challenged by the words and actions of Jesus, it is always good to remember that Jesus also has “zeal” for us. He will give us what we need to follow Him.
Fr. Phil, CP