In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus drives the vendors, most notably the money changers, out of the Temple. Actually, he drove them out of the great plaza in front of the Temple building itself. Why did he do this and what does it mean for us?
The Jewish laws and rules were specific on the sacrificial requirements the people had to observe. Only the finest animals and other offerings, as defined in the law, were deemed acceptable for the altar. Furthermore, money offerings were restricted to Temple sheklels, archaic coinage no longer in general circulation.
Each of these items was available only within the Temple precincts. Those who sold them to pilgrims had been granted monopolies by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Privileged families were designated as the exclusive sellers of specific items for proper sacrifice. So one vendor had the dove concession, another supplied all the lambs, and so forth. This was hugely profitable. The monopoly markups were scandalous.
Most representative of this cozy “crony capitalism” setup were the moneychangers, the family of Hannan. Their system exchanged common coinage for Temple shekels. It was easy to see the abuse because coins of the same weight and metallic makeup were considered by the populace to be of equal value. But the Temple shekel, based on its weight and metallic content was of far less value than the common coins the Hannan family demanded for its purchase. Everyone knew and could see and feel the injustice in this arrangement, but they could do nothing about it because the Sanhedrin had declared that only through the Hannan family could worthy coinage be obtained.
Often, this incident is used to condemn commerce, but that is not what Jesus is doing here. He is condemning governmental privilege and the theft that always results from it. His people are being ripped off and they have no recourse. And this abomination is happening within the holy precincts of the Temple itself. Is it any wonder that he was upset?
If we really pay attention to what Jesus said and did, instead of reinterpreting his life to suit our own prejudices, we can find great wisdom.