Anger is a very delicate human emotion which helps us to stand up against aggression and evil, but which must be handled carefully lest it snowballs into destructive behaviour with grave consequences. When put to good use, anger can bring about a positive change, but it could also have a damaging influence – domestic violence, adultery, marriage breakdown, road rage, murder, and even suicide. And even concealed anger can breed pride, resentment, envy, malice, gossip, high blood pressure, etc. So, there is a place for anger, but it must be within the bounds of reason.
On the other hand, corruption is big socio-economic malaise that enriches a few at the expense of the majority, thereby causing massive economic inequalities and social imbalance. Corruption becomes more hideous when practised by those in religious authority as it hides under the mask of hypocrisy to unleash a double tragedy of spiritual and economic deprivation on innocent citizens. This grim reality means that corruption is never a problem to be handled with kid gloves – only a very strong approach is required to have any hope of success.
Today, Jesus sets the standard with a rare display of righteous anger as he takes on the Temple officials for their hypocrisy and brazen corruption. There’s only a few instances in Scripture when Jesus shows anger, and each time it was against hypocrisy. He condemned hypocrisy more energetically than any other sin. He hates hypocrisy perhaps because it’s very subtle, and so easy to fall into. How easy it can be to change our external demeanour to fit in with everyone around us. But that tactic never lasts as every actor must take off his mask sooner or later. Hypocrisy displays the façade of one thing on the outside but is something else entirely on the inside. That’s the strategy of the Temple officials. Seemingly, they were guiding the people in the true worship of God, but they were interfering with that very worship.
The annual Passover feast usually drew a multitude of Jews and Gentile believers from all over the world to Jerusalem. For most of these pilgrims, it was practically impossible to bring along their own sacrificial animals. And even for those who could, the animals would need certification by Temple clerks, who in most cases hesitated to approve animals brought from outside since the Temple authorities sold animals too. Thus, it was more convenient for the pilgrims to buy the animals from the Temple merchants. This scenario bred corruption as the near monopoly enjoyed by the Temple sellers led to extortionate prices. The Temple officials were making vast amounts of profit at the expense of the worshippers.
Similarly, the Temple tax was compulsory for every Jew 19 years and over. In those days, most of the Jews living outside Israel came to the festival with currencies bearing the image of Caesar, which were not acceptable for the tax because the images contravened the First Commandment. Only the Jewish shekel without an image on it was acceptable, and so the pilgrims had to change their money into the shekel. The currency market was also controlled by the Temple authorities who ripped the pilgrims off by manipulating the exchange rates. Worse still, all the buying and selling happened in the section of the Temple reserved for the Gentile converts. Thus, all the noise meant that pious non-Jews could not worship God in peace.
It is worthy to note here that all this chaos happened under the watch of the High Priest Caiaphas, who profited greatly from the trade. Hence, by dismissing the traders, Jesus would have stepped on his toes, and that could explain his violent hostility towards the Lord during his trial. As Scripture says: “Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people” (John18:14). Also, it was him that slapped Jesus during the trial. As the cliché goes: When you fight corruption, it fights back!
Jesus’ angry reaction to Temple trade was justifiable on three fronts. First, the Temple was being used as a shopping mall. Secondly, he was concerned for the poor pilgrims who were being swindled by the system. And lastly, he was pained by the plight of the Gentile believers who were being denied a conducive atmosphere for prayer. Unfortunately, what should have been a pious service to God had become a path to self-enrichment, driven by greed and corruption. And so, in his righteous expression of anger, Jesus cleansed the Temple. He was fired by the zeal for the sanctity of the Temple and the integrity of worship. Do we talk or laugh irreverently inside the church, thereby denying others the serenity of worship? Do we dress indecently to Church or leave our mobile phones switched on inside the Church? Do we have a habit of going late to Mass? Do we remember to observe the Eucharistic fast of one hour? Do we convert the Church into shopping in the name of “Harvest/Thanksgiving”? Let everyone do their own introspection!
The sacking of the traders was sign of the Temple’s impending destruction by the Romans, while the expulsion of the animals from the precincts pointed to the imminent cessation of animal sacrifice in the Temple. On another plane, theologians like Origen have likened the cleansed Temple to the tarnished human soul inundated with sin and unhealthy attachments. Such a soul needs to be cleansed with the divine whip of true doctrine and sacramental absolution, to create a conducive atmosphere for the true worship of God.
Dear friends, let us say no corruption of any sort today! Let us resolve never to deny others the chance to worship God in peace. And let us review the place of anger in our life. It is OK to display anger when motivated by the zeal for a genuinely positive change, but we must be careful in the expression lest we aggravate the situation. Amen!
Reading: Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 1; Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 11; First Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25.