Luke 19.45-48 — The Cleansing of the Temple

Another very well known text. Jesus giving them “what for”.

Actually there are things here that are fascinating. The story (and Jesus’ activity) moves directly from the triumphal entry to the cleansing of the temple. It’s a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi where suddenly, the Lord you seek comes to the temple to purify the sons of Levi. It is far too simplistic to see this as a bit of prophetic indignation; instead it’s God coming to take back from the intruders and squatters what is rightfully his. There is irony couched in it: The Lord through nonviolence (no swords, no armies) takes the holy place, and the holy people there seek to kill him by violence. It’s not for driving out the animals that they are motivated by, but by his claim to be the messiah. (If there had been anything illegal in Jesus’ action, it would have grounds for a legitimate arrest. But that is obviously not the case, for at his trial this incident was not brought up.)

It is in prophetic symbolism that he enters the Temple, stages a dramatic demonstration, explains what he has done and why, and then quietly leaves. He makes no effort to take over the operations of the temple. He doesn’t instruct his followers to do anything to secure the area. He quotes Scriptures about restoring and redeeming God’s holy place and about the repentance of the people. This is no political or religious coup, no seizing of power, no military action. It’s an act of symbolic street theater to make a point. No one is hurt or killed, but his assessment of the prevailing system is as clear as daylight: The system is broken. Everything has turned to profiteering, favoritism, abuse, and restrictions. Instead, Jesus claims, it should be all about relationship with God, freedom, openness, and grace. What went wrong? People got involved.

But it wasn’t just a symbolic action. Every day he was teaching at the temple, explaining what he did and why, explaining what God’s house was for, who God is, and how to have a relationship with him. And the people hung on every word he spoke.

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