The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is full of symbolism.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is full of symbolism.
READING 1 | READING 2 | GOSPEL
Entering the temple, Jesus discovered how deceiving appearances can be. While the place appeared to fulfill its function, closer inspection revealed that it had forgotten its purpose. The trappings were still in place but the place had no heart for its raison d’être. It had been taken over by buyers and sellers, consumers and marketers who knew how fill the pews and meet the capital campaign goals. The ways of the world invade the church gradually, subtly, never intentionally, always in service of the church and its mission. Soon the church is full of cattle and sheep and turtledoves and money changers!
Jesus is angry because the Jews have desecrated his Father’s house (v. 16). When the first temple was dedicated to God, the builder, King Solomon, called it “an exalted temple for [him], a place for [God’s] dwelling forever” (1 Kgs 8:13). At that dedication, “the glory of the LORD filled the temple” (1 Kgs 8:11). God isn’t confined to the temple, but the temple is a special place where he would meet men. In this house men would come to worship him, and sacrifices were offered to him. This house was built to display his glory. But the sounds of confession have been replaced with the sounds of commerce. Gone are silent prayers to God. They have been exchanged for the angry chorus of men haggling over the price of bulls and sheep. The cooing of doves and the stink of manure now occupy the place that used to be reserved for men to humble themselves and worship God. Jesus levels a charge, but the charge is not unethical practices. They have twisted the purpose of the temple. Jesus is denouncing impure worship. The holiness and gravity of worship have been lost. People have forgotten why they come to the temple in the first place.
Roughly at this point in the Synoptics we would be reading of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But John leaves the significant block of material out. Instead he substitutes the first temple expulsion. Later in the narrative where the second temple expulsion is presented by the Synoptics, John omits that story and substitutes the coming of the Greeks (Jn 12:20-22). It is as if John wants us to be reminded that there are many different wilderness experiences. While some are literally in the desert, a deeper, lonelier wilderness can be experienced in a crowded place where worship should be offered but tragically is not.
John 2:13-16 Jesus was angry at those who turned the Temple courts into a marketplace of unjust profit. The merchants forced the people to buy “approved” sacrificial animals at exorbitant prices and exchanged their currency for Temple currency at inflated rates. They abused the public trust and mocked holy worship. Anger that is measured and authorized by God’s purposes is justified. Sometimes this kind of anger can play an important role in our spiritual, emotional, and physical recovery. We may need to stand up to the abusive forces in our life and make changes that will set us free from their grip. As we do, God will stand by us.
2:14–16 God’s temple was being misused by people who had turned it into a marketplace. They had forgotten, or didn’t care, that God’s house is a place of worship, not a place for making a profit. Our attitude toward the church is wrong if we see it as a place for personal contacts or business advantage. Make sure you attend church to worship God.
READING 1 | READING 2 | GOSPEL
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus gives a sign of His divine authority. He cleanses the Jerusalem Temple of the people’s profane practice of buying and selling within the Temple precincts. His purification of His Father’s house prepares the way for the inauguration of a new liturgy of worship “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23) and a New Covenant (Lk 22:20). The New Covenant will open the gates of Heaven (CCC 536, 1026) and will give the gifts of eternal salvation and the Holy Spirit that the Old Covenant was incapable of providing.
This event is the first of the three Passover Feasts mentioned in John’s Gospel (see Jn 2:13; 6:4; 12:1). The day of the Passover sacrifice preceded the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They were two of the seven annual Sacred Feasts decreed by God at Mt. Sinai (Lev 23:5-44). Passover was the feast that began the liturgical year, celebrated annually on the 14th of Nisan [Abib /Aviv], which corresponds to our March/April time frame (Ex 12:1; 13:4). Sundown of the day after the Passover sacrifice began the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread as the ancients counted (Nisan 15-21). However, as was the custom in the 1st century AD, St. John’s Gospel refers to the entire eight days as “Passover,” and the Synoptic Gospels use the terms Passover and Unleavened Bread for the combined feasts (Mt 26:17; Mk 14:12; Lk 22:1).
Jesus went up to Jerusalem
At its highest point, Jerusalem is approximately 2,600 feet above sea level and built across three mountain ridges. God’s Holy Temple was built on a mountain called Moriah. The place-name only appears twice in the Bible:
The Jerusalem Temple was the only place where God’s ordained priests could offer sacrifice to the God of Israel. The people offered sacrifices in atonement for their sins as a covenant people and as individuals so communion with God could be restored (Dt 12:8-12).
14 He found in the Temple area [herion] those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there.
These animals were sold as “clean” animals, acceptable for sacrifice (Lev 11:1-30). The doves and pigeons were the sacrifices of the poor (Lev 5:7). The Law of the Covenant required that a Temple tax of a half-shekel once a year.
Coins that bore the Roman Emperors’ portraits or other pagan images were not accepted for paying the tax (Ex 20:4) or for making donations to the Temple treasury for the poor. Money-changers, for a profit, exchanged these coins for legal Tyrian coinage, which bore no images.
15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area [herion], with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables …
The Temple police strictly enforced the rule that no weapons or sticks were allowed in the Temple precincts. Jesus may have taken the rushes used as bedding for the animals to fashion His whip.
The area for the animal market and money changing tables was an outer court (herion in the Greek text) and was probably the largest courtyard, the Court of the Gentiles. This court was set aside for instructing the Gentile peoples concerning the One True God and where they could pray.
They could not have access to any other parts of the Temple precinct. Since they had not yet submitted to the necessary rites concerned with conversion and becoming members of the Covenant family, Gentiles could not offer sacrifice at the Temple altar or attend Temple services. However, they could bring acceptable sacrifices to the chief priests to offer God on their behalf.
The Gentiles’ outer courtyard was the one place where they had the opportunity to come close to God in His Sanctuary.
16 and to those who sold doves, he said, “Take these out of here and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
Perhaps because the doves were the sacrifices for the poor, Jesus seems to be less harsh with the dove sellers.
Jesus is both fully God and man. He experienced all the human desires and conditions that we experience. However, unlike us, He was not tempted to sin, nor did He sin. His anger was righteous.
John 2:15 should read: He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
The words “poured out” are significant in Scripture; this is liturgical language. These words appear in the Hebrew Old Testament, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint, and in the New Testament in connection with the “pouring out” of the blood of the sacrifice on the altar and the “pouring out” of God’s wrath. In this case, it is the “pouring out” of God’s wrath.
This action is a prophetic sign performed by Jesus as the promised Supreme Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:14-20. Such a sign performed by a Prophet is called in Hebrew an ot and indicates a future fulfillment.
In this case, Jesus’ action signifies the Temple’s destruction, which took place in AD 70 when God poured out His judgment on the Old Covenant people for rejecting the Messiah and therefore rejecting God’s New Covenant of salvation.
John 2:16 should read: Make not the house of my Father a house of trade.
There is a word-play on the double use of the word “house,” and Jesus is also making a very powerful statement about His identity. He is the Messiah, and He identifies Himself as God’s Son because He calls God His “Father.” Notice that when John the Baptist identified Jesus as “the Son of God” in John 1:24, he was not identifying Jesus as “a son of God” like David or the other Davidic kings but as God’s only-begotten [monogenes] Son (Jn 1:18; also see God’s affirmation in Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22). Jesus is affirming this claim.
The early Church Father, Origen, in his Homilies on St. John, writes: “And from thenceforth Jesus, the Anointed of God, always begins by reforming abuses and purifying from sin; both when he visits his Church, and when he visits the Christian soul…” (Homily on St. John, 1).
17 His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The words of Scripture the disciples recall are in Psalm 69:9(10). The verse expresses the suffering of the righteous who call out to God to save them from the wounds they suffer through the insults that sinners heap upon God.
The Psalm ends in a promise that God will save Zion. Zion always refers to Israel but in the sense of a redeemed Israel, the Church.
The disciples connect this passage to Jesus’ righteous anger in response to the misuse of His Father’s house and the promise of Psalm 69 that He will redeem His people.
18 At this, the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this Temple [naon], and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Greek words naon/naos indicate the Sanctuary of the Temple area, which included the Holy Place, and the “inner sanctum” called the Holy of Holies. Jesus’ response, however, is a prophetic statement of His death and resurrection.
The risen Christ’s Body is one of the great symbols of Christianity (see Rev 21:22 and 1 Cor 12:12ff).
In this passage, Jesus declares His Body, Himself personally, and His Body the Church, to be the true Temple! The physical resurrection of Christ’s Body is the foundation for His New Covenant people being constituted as the Temple because, in receiving Christ in the Sacrament of Eucharist, our bodies become His living Temple. Christ lives in us; therefore, we are the Body because we have received the Body of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11, 16-17; Eph 1:20; 2:5-6).
Jesus is also challenging the Temple authorities to destroy His body. The irony is that they will try to “destroy” the temple of His Body when they contrive to have the Romans condemn Jesus to crucifixion. However, there is a double fulfillment in Jesus’ prophecy in verse 19.
Jesus’ Body arose from the grave in divine glory (CCC# 586 & 994), but after its physical destruction by the Romans in AD 70, the Jerusalem Temple was never rebuilt. The Arab shrine, the Dome of the Rock, stands on the site today.
20 The Jews said, “This temple [naos] has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple [naon] of his body. 22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
The comment in verse 20 can help us date this event. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus confirms that Herod the Great spent 46 years rebuilding the Temple begun by the Jews who returned from the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC. He records that Herod started reconstructing the Temple in 19 BC (Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.3). That would date the event of Jesus’ first Temple cleansing in the first year of His ministry to the spring of AD 28. This date agrees with Luke’s statement that John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministry in the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius = 28 AD.
The Jerusalem Temple had been an “empty house” ever since the Temple’s rebuilding after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile in the late 6th century BC. God did not take possession of the rebuilt Temple the way He had filled and indwelled the desert Tabernacle (Ex 40:34-45) and Solomon’s Temple (1 Kng 8:10-11).
The Holy of Holies was an empty room because no Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of God among His people, graced its sacred space. The Ark was removed by the prophet Jeremiah and lost to history just before the Temple’s destruction in 587/6 BC (2 Mac 2:1-8; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.4.4 & The Jewish War, 1.7.6 & 6.4.7).
When God was at rest on His Glory Throne, He judged His Creation-Temple in the Garden of Eden. When He found wickedness contaminating it, He cleansed it, banishing the offenders, Adam and Eve (Gen 3:24).
In this event in John’s Gospel, Jesus, the Son of God, comes to the Temple on the Sabbath; He assessed the Temple, judges it as contaminated, and cleanses it by banishing the offenders.
In Jesus’ first Temple cleansing, God returned to claim His holy house. For the first time in centuries, God’s presence is in His Temple, fulfilling the prophecy in Malachi:
And suddenly there will come to the Temple the LORD [Yahweh] whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts [Yahweh Sabaoth]. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that 5they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD [Yahweh] (Mal 3:1-3).
He came to purify His people for a new liturgy of worship and a new temple that will be His Body united with the Body of believers that will become His New Covenant Church.
22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
St. John continually reminds us that much of the true meaning of what he and the other disciples witnessed remained unrevealed to them until after Jesus’ resurrection. We should remember that it is on the New Covenant Sabbath, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, that we come to appear before God’s throne of judgment in the Liturgy of worship to have the fitness of our spiritual condition examined. If we are free of sin, we can enter His rest in the Holy Eucharist that becomes our foretaste of Heaven (Heb chapters 3-4).
Is there an eschatological warning in this event of Jesus’ Temple cleansing; the first of three such cleansings:
The word “eschatological” means “last things.” It can refer to God’s judgment as it was visited on peoples of the earth down through Salvation History (i.e., the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, on Jerusalem and the Old Covenant for the rejection of Christ in AD 70). It can also refer to God’s judgment at the end of creation as we know it. It is good for us to remember that Jesus banished the offenders from His Father’s house in a dramatic manifestation of His righteous wrath and His fierce judgment. In the same way, on the final “Day of Judgment,” Christ will return to judge the world as His Temple, and His judgment will be fierce:
…but now he has given this promise: “I am going to shake the earth once more and not only the earth but heaven as well.” The words “once more” indicate the removal of what is shaken, since these are created things, so that what is not shaken remains. We have been given possession of an unshakeable kingdom. Let us, therefore, be grateful and use our gratitude to worship God in the way that pleases him, in reverence and fear. For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:26-29 NJB).
23 While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. 24 But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, 25 and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
We miss the force of this statement in the modern translation of John 2:23-3:1. The more literal reading is: 2:24 But himself Jesus did not trust himself to them, because of his knowing all, 25 and that no need he had that any should testify concerning man, for he knew what was in man. 3:1 But there was a man of the Pharisees….
In the modern translation, we miss the significant three-part repetition of the word “man.” In Scripture, any repetition in threes or mention of three indicates the theological importance of the next event. Since Jesus is fully man but also God, He can read the intentions of the hearts of people. Here, He detects deficient faith in those men who have been amazed at His signs but who fail to grasp the significance of His mission. This perception will relate to the Pharisee Nicodemus in the next passage. At his first meeting with Jesus, Nicodemus, whose name means “people crusher” (demos = people, nico = crusher or conqueror), represents such inadequate belief. Later he came to accept Jesus as his Redeemer-Messiah. See CCC #473.
And how would you categorize yourself? Are you one who needs “signs” to bolster your faith? St. John Chrysostom, writing in the late 4th century, commented: “Many people are like that. They carry the name of faithful, but they are fickle and inconstant…” (Homilies on St. John, 23, 1).
Faith is a matter of obedience and trust. It takes courage to have faith, but even more, it takes love. If you obediently place your love and faith in Jesus, you will never be disappointed. St. Paul had this advice for believers: But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you [both] are doing and will continue to do. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ (2 Thess 3:3-5).
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Word to Eucharist: Do we really know this Jesus whose death we are proclaiming today? Are we proud or ashamed of leaders who act as he did? Which Spirit moves us as we process?
In only his second chapter, John gets to the heart of how Jesus criticized the religious leader of his day, how this led to his death and resurrection, and how disciples came to believe in him.
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When Jesus “cleanses” the temple, he connects the act with his death and resurrection, trying to get his audience to understand where the real temple is. Check out this video with Dr. Brant Pitre to learn more about this famous episode in Jesus’ ministry.
Origen of Alexandria’s commentary on the coinage of the money-changers in the /temple of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus
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