What is our religion like?
The story of Jesus’ intervention in the Jerusalem temple is recorded in all four gospels. It is John who describes his reaction in the most graphic way: with a whip, Jesus drives out of the sacred temple area the animals for sacrifice that are being sold, overturns the money-changers’ tables and spills their coins. A cry comes out of his lips: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
This gesture will trigger his arrest and swift execution. To attack the temple is to attack the heart of the Jewish people. The temple is the center of their religious, social and economic life. It is untouchable. The God of Israel dwells there. Yet Jesus feels like stranger in that place—the temple is not his Father’s house, but rather a marketplace.
Sometimes this intervention of Jesus has been seen as his effort to “purify” a religion that is too primitive, in order to replace it with a more worthy worship and with rites that are less bloody. There is something more radical, however, to his prophetic gesture: God cannot be an accessory to a religion in which everyone seeks one’s own interest. Jesus cannot see in such a religion this “family of God” that has begun to form with his first men and women disciples.
No one in that temple remembers the poor and hungry rural folks he has left behind in the villages of Galilee. The Father of the poor cannot rule out of this temple. With his prophetic gesture, Jesus is denouncing radically a religious, political and economic system that is forgetful of the least of the people, God’s favorites.
Jesus’ action should put us his followers on our guard, so that we may ask ourselves what religion we are practicing in our temples. If it is not inspired by Jesus, it can turn into a “holy” way of closing ourselves to the project that God has wanted to foster in the world. The religion of those who follow Jesus must always be at the service of God’s kingdom and his justice.
On the other hand, we need to check if our communities are a space where all of us can feel we are in “the Father’s house,” a welcoming community that closes its doors to no one and which excludes no one and discriminates against nobody, a house where we learn to listen to the suffering of the weakest and not just to our own interests.
Let us not forget that Christianity is a prophetic religion, born of Jesus’ Spirit in order to pave the way for the kingdom of God, building a more human world where all are brothers and sisters, and headed thus toward its definitive salvation in God.
José Antonio Pagola
November 9, 2014
Dedication of the Lateran Church
John 2, 13-22