Luke 19: 45 – 48 Jesus at the temple
When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘ “My house will be a house of prayer”; but you have made it “a den of robbers”.
Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.
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I’m afraid what I’ve written about this passage is not very coherent. I’ve been struggling with it.
St Luke writes this passage as though Jesus’ assault on the temple traders was the trigger for a conspiracy by the religious leaders to have him killed. They couldn’t act at once; they were thwarted by the crowd because of Jesus’ popularity.
Jesus was a direct threat to the establishment, and they sought to kill him.
He asserted that while the Mosaic Law was still valid and good, its interpretation by the chief priests and Pharisees was wrong. They manipulated it to their own advantage.
In this passage, Jesus sees trading taking place in the temple courts. He starts to drive out the traders, saying that the temple should be a house of prayer but they have made it a den of robbers. He is making the point that the temple is for the sacred and spiritual, and not for secular trading. St Mark tells us that the traders were selling doves (which visitors would have needed as sacrifices) and changing money (which visitors would have needed to pay the temple tax), so they were providing a necessary service – they were just in the wrong place. (Mark 11: 15 – 17)
As always, Jesus’ emphasis is on the spiritual.
Worldly wisdom gives different answers to spiritual questions.
St John describes how Caiaphas justifies the need for Jesus to die: “Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ ” (John 11: 49 – 50)
The authorities would have seen that Jesus’ popularity was large and growing. He claimed by inference to be the Messiah. Even if he never actually said this explicitly, it was surely only a matter of time before others did on his behalf. Eventually the Romans would notice and take harsh action. If Jesus had prepared an armed insurrection – a perfectly reasonable possibility from the point of view of the Jewish leaders – the Romans would have crushed it mercilessly, possibly destroying the limited autonomy of Judea and Galilee and scattering the Jewish nation.
And, of course, that’s eventually what happened. The chief priests and Caiaphas were right. The Jews revolted against the Romans and the Jewish state came to an end.
However, does this justify the murder of an innocent man? Could they not have approached Jesus to try to make an agreement with him? We don’t know for certain that they didn’t, of course, but there’s no record of it. In human terms, the judicial murder of Jesus is possibly justifiable to save many thousands of lives from Roman slaughter.
Did Jesus provide an alternative vision for the nation?
In the sense of a political vision, no I don’t think he did. That wasn’t his concern. For some time as I wrestled with this reading, I thought (mistakenly) that Jesus was exclusively focussed on the spiritual. I thought because he didn’t have a political vision for the nation, he was giving all his energy and will to the spiritual. I started to think that he didn’t care about this material world.
I was wrong, of course, because Jesus cared then and he cares now. Throughout his earthly ministry, he made people whole. He made their lives better in this world; they didn’t have to wait until the next world. He cared about what happens here; why, only yesterday we read how he wept over Jerusalem as he foresaw its inevitable fate!
We need to put the spiritual first in our lives. However, we should also be grateful for this earthly life, because Jesus blessed it through his life, death and resurrection.
Thank you for life. Thank you for love. Thank you for Jesus. Please help me to be obedient to your will.
In Jesus name, Amen