“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the moneychangers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2:13-16)
I can’t help but smile at the horrified, confused, and embarrassed look on the disciples’ faces when Jesus flipped over the tables and ran them out with whips. It must have been even worse than an embarrassed mother trying to silence her screaming and temper tantrum throwing 2-year-old during Mass. I’m sure the disciples wished they could have scooped Jesus up and taken him out of the temple like a mother takes her child out of Mass when they throw a fit.
Imagine the scene as a Paramount motion picture that gives a wide shot of the disciples as Jesus flips over tables and lashes at them with homemade whips. Their eyes are wide, their jaws need to be lifted off the floor, and the scared looks on their faces are something to which most of us can relate. Frozen. Silent. Terrified. Ashamed.
This was the same temple which Mary and Joseph presented Jesus as a child. It was the same temple Jesus was found, at the age of 12, sitting among the religious leaders and astounding them with his knowledge and questions. It was the same one which he stood before the Jews, read scripture, and declared the scripture he read had been fulfilled. He was certainly familiar with the temple.
What were they doing wrong? Jesus accuses them of making the temple a “marketplace”. They were, indeed, doing much more than that. He specifically points to those selling doves and tells them to remove the doves. Jews would bring oxen, sheep, and doves to the temple for sacrifices. The doves, according to the Old Testament, were the sacrifices of the poor. It is likely those selling the doves at the temple were charging high prices for the doves and exploiting the poor for profit. They were taking advantage of people for their own selfish desires and Jesus was not going to allow it in the temple.
“If, however, he cannot afford an animal of the flock, he shall bring to the Lord as the sin offering for his sin two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a holocaust.” (Leviticus 5:7)
To what greater extent does the Church have corruption today? It is easy to point to the priests, bishops, or even accuse the pope of corruption. However, notice that Jesus does not flip over tables or run the religious elite and rulers out with whips. He takes issue with the ordinary Jews who were taking advantage of the rituals, expectations of the faith, and using God to fill their pockets at the expense of making others even poorer.
There are many types of “poor” in this world. There is a greater poverty than money and that is the poverty of the soul and spirit. Do we play a part of taking advantage of the “poor” for our own personal desires under the guise of “faith”? Do we have some blame for the condition of spiritual poverty for those who do not come back to the faith based on our behaviors or attitudes? Are we a stumbling block rather than a highway for those to come to the Church?
What tables in our own lives does Jesus need to flip over to get us to go to Mass for the reason we should be attending – worship? What aspects of our selfishness that we carry to Mass with us does he need to run out with the whips of sacrifice? We are expected to bring our needs and burdens before the Lord in the Mass. We are welcomed to bring our anxieties and stresses to the Lord and offer them up to him in the Mass. It is not proper or allowed by the Lord to bring a desire to attend Mass for personal earthly motives, aspirations, or profit. Is your Mass attendance out of obligation, socialization, networking, or reputation? Is it for worship and an encounter of the God of the universe?
The next time you attend Mass ask yourself “why am I here?”