Sometimes, because biblical stories are so familiar, I forget to wonder about their origins, or even to ask simple questions of their meaning. For instance, the Gospel stories of Jesus ‘cleansing the temple,’ overturning the tables of the moneychangers.
The story can be found, in various forms, in Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:10-17; and Luke 19:45-48.
From Mark’s Gospel:
Then they came to Jerusalem. And [Jesus} entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”
18And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Now, by way of deeper understanding (which is what we are trying to achieve my reading the Bible in its entirety!)-
But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance [to the central sanctuary] is so great that you are unable to transport [your grain/animal offerings], because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, 25then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; 26spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.
The moneychangers, as Deuteronomy explains it, allowed worshippers from far distances to be a part of the Temple’s activities. They couldn’t be expected to carry bulls or loads of grains from far away, so a practice developed (authorized in Scripture)- animal/grain offerings would be converted to silver; travelers would carry bundles of silver weights to the central sanctuary, where they would convert the silver again into “either comestible animals or agricultural produce.” And then, they would “eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.”
We can imagine that over time, the practice became corrupted by some, and it was this corruption that upset Jesus. Not the moneychangers in and of themselves, but the corruption of pure sanctuary worship for selfish purpose.
Does this explode your understanding of these Gospel stories? Does is it make you reconsider the complexities of Jesus’ relationship with the chief priests and the scribes? I hope so. It does for me. Truly. Deeply.