The gospel lectionary reading from John 2:13-22, the Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus ‘cleansing’ the temple and driving out the traders and money-changers goes beyond ‘a shining paragon of toleration and inclusivity.’ The first cleansing of the temple by Jesus was based on the insult and evil acts of the people and against God. Jesus ‘eaten up’ with righteous anger against such flagrant disrespect for God dealt wholeheartedly against the people (Jn 2:13-17). Many commentators think the cleansing happened only once, but with Jesus’ zeal for His Father’s house, there is good reason to believe Jesus did the cleansing twice to fulfil Malachi’s prophecy (Mal 3:1-3). It could also likely be that the people had returned after Jesus left hence, the need for the second cleansing (Mk 11). A second cleansing occurred at the end of Jesus’ ministry, about three years later, and is recorded in Matthew 21:12-17 and Luke 19:45-48). The temple, has become a fig tree without fruit. This pictures may not sit well with those who regard Christ as a ‘gentle Jesus,’ forgetting that he is a Jesus of love with righteousness.

On the lessons taught by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, William Hendriksen states that Jesus punished degradation of religion and insisted on reverence.[1] According to him, Jesus rebuked fraud, ‘religious’ racketeering. Jesus frowned upon peoples’ indifference toward those who desired to worship God in Spirit and Truth, and, by declaring that the temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations. To Jesus, meekness is strength under control (Matt 11:29; 5:5).

Jesus objected to the trading practice, ‘merchandise’ on the premises of the temple as a perversion of the purpose of the temple hence, he said the temple is to be ‘a house of prayer,’  – worship and spiritual service and not a place of making financial gain by modern day ‘faith-healers.’ Lent calls us to distinguish between worship activities and merchandise and the urgency to overcome the perversion of the purpose of the temple. The challenge is that ‘when God gives a spiritual purpose to … an ordinance, we displease Him greatly when we change that purpose to another purpose, especially to a purpose that is materialistic or physical in emphasis to satisfy human desires instead of giving Him honour and praise.’ The principle is that the church must be Bible compliant for all we do (Matt 15:9, 13, 2 Jn 9-11, Col 3:17, Jer 10:3). The moral and religious depravity of the religious leaders prompted Jesus’ actions. To Jesus, the temple has become ‘a den of robbers,’ the bandits’ hideout, a place of security and refuge where robbers retreat to share their loots. The temple has become a place where people gather to receive divine forgiveness and positions regardless of how they live on the outside.

The reflection is that the cleansing of the temple points to prophetic sign acts that warns against impending judgment. The cleansing of the temple illustrates the extent to which the Temple leadership had gone in losing contact with God’s purpose for the Temple and God’s people. The general corruption of the High Priesthood and the religious leadership is evidenced by the fact that they responded to Jesus’ zeal for the sanctity of the temple by deciding to kill him. Lent speaks to us to reflect on numerous declarations, actions and inactions of our refusal to accept Jesus’ identity and authority. Lent, as journey to the Cross offers us opportunity for repentance by changing and overturning our institutional/cultural benches and tables of authority and leadership. Lent is about enough is enough of spiritual deception and perversion of worship and purpose of the church. Lent is a reminder that there is a fate that awaits the church hence, the need for overturning of our stands and actions for fruitfulness.

[1] Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953)