Today is Monday of Holy Week, the week that Christians all over the world celebrate as a remembrance of Jesus’ last week on earth.
One of the traditions associated with this day is the remembrance of Jesus’ “Cleansing of the Temple” (Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-16). As the story goes, Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem, and became distraught by the money-changing and animal-selling that was going on in the courtyard. These activities were necessary to carrying on the tradition of tithe-giving and animal sacrifice in the temple, since people needed to change their Roman money into the temple currency, and needed to purchase animals for sacrifice, since it was very difficult to bring the needed animals over long distances while maintaining the ritual purity necessary. Most people suppose that the money-changers and animal sellers were corrupt, however, inflating their prices and keeping a healthy profit for themselves, thus cheating people in the midst of what should have been a holy environment.
The scene of Jesus turning over tables and whipping animals and people out of the temple is at once exciting and disturbing. It is exciting because it is a scene that evokes the righteous anger God must have over our hypocrisy, when we distort rituals and holy things into objects to be used for our own gain. And, it is disturbing because it presents us with a very different image of Jesus than most of us are used to seeing. When most people think of Jesus, they picture a gentle, meek-and-mild savior, cuddling lambs and bouncing children on his knee. We certainly don’t imagine his face distorted in anger, with a whip in his hand, hitting people and animals in the temple!
While this image can be uncomfortable for some, it is a necessary image for us to confront during Holy Week. The image of the righteous anger of Jesus provides us with some perspective into the nature of God’s love for us, and the kinds of actions we should take as followers of Christ. Not that we should also take up whips and turn over tables! Instead, perhaps we should search ourselves and see where we have distorted the love of God, or the rituals, practices, and doctrines of the Church to our own benefit. Whenever we cite Scripture as a way to exclude others, or to bolster our own point of view, we do the same injustice to God’s commands as the money-changers and animal dealers. Whenever we ignore our own sins while pointing out the flaws of others, we directly disobey Jesus, and we flaunt God’s forgiveness of us.
On this day, I don’t see myself in this story alongside Jesus, holding a whip in my hand, driving out the hypocrites. Instead, I see myself as one of those hypocrites, needing to be reminded of the high and holy purpose God has for me, for the Church, and for the Body of Christ. Some say that the Church is too full of hypocrites, and that is why they don’t go to church. I say, “There’s always room for one more.”
During this Holy Week, may we all be reminded of our need for Christ, especially in the face of our own hypocrisies and judgments.