While sharing the aversion of using religion as a means to gain material wealth, I think a more fruitful way of understanding Christ’s action to cleanse the temple can be discerned in relation to Israel’s aversion to the worship of false gods and the necessity of cleansing our own temple—that is, our lives—of these fallen deities. Remember, St. Paul said that the body of each Christian is “a temple of the Holy Spirit.” By this, he means a place where the one true God is honored and worshipped. The apostle is providing us with an image of the Christian life as one in which a person finds happiness and integration in the measure that she becomes, personally, a place where God is first.
Think, then, that Christ has come not only to “cleanse the Temple of Jerusalem,” but the temple of your own body, your own life. The Lord Jesus comes into your life expecting to find a place ordered to the worship of the one true God, but what he finds is “a marketplace.” What does this mean? It means that Christ finds a place where things other than God have become primary. To bring such idolatry closer to our cultural experience, how much of your life is given over to materialism, commercialism or the accumulation of things? What rivals to the one true God have you allowed to invade the sacred space of your soul? I have referenced earlier wealth, pleasure, power and honor. How are these things enshrined in the sanctuary of your own heart?
The temple-cleansing Christ is a memorable image with enduring power. We shouldn’t relegate that image or the Lord himself to merely a statement about our impatience with the corruptions of religious institutions and miss the point that strikes closer to home: Christ comes to each of us to rid the temple of our own body of the idols to which we have foolishly given power and pride of place.
Using the Gospels to make ourselves more comfortable at casting stones can be a temptation; it can be so easy to miss that what is being offered is our own cleansing.
(Gratuitous Holy Land trip photo share.)