Jesus cleanses the temple,
IESUS EJECIT DE TEMPLO OVES ET BOVES ET MENSAS NUMMULARIORUM EVERTIT (Jesus throws the sheep and cattle out of the temple and overturns the money-changers' tables),
Monreale Cathedral mosaics,
Late 12th / early 13th century
Jesus upset the tables of the money changers in the temple
After he had been acclaimed by the crowds, Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. He looked all round him, but as it was now late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. And he addressed the fig tree. ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’ he said. And his disciples heard him say this.
So they reached Jerusalem and he went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling pigeons. Nor would he allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. And he taught them and said, ‘Does not scripture say: My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples? But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’ This came to the ears of the chief priests and the scribes, and they tried to find some way of doing away with him; they were afraid of him because the people were carried away by his teaching. And when evening came he went out of the city.
Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots. Peter remembered. ‘Look, Rabbi,’ he said to Jesus, ‘the fig tree you cursed has withered away.’ Jesus answered, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you solemnly, if anyone says to this mountain, “Get up and throw yourself into the sea,” with no hesitation in his heart but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. I tell you therefore: everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours. And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too. But if you do not forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive your failings either.’
Reflection on the Byzantine style mosaics
In today’s gospel reading, we hear Jesus quote from Isaiah, after he took dramatic action at the Temple of Jerusalem. He quotes: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples’. In other words, the Temple was not just for the Jewish people, but for ALL peoples. In fact at the time, there was a special court in the Temple area reserved for the Gentiles, for all non-Jews. This was the court that had been turned into a market. It prevented pagans gathering there. God’s purpose for the Temple was being frustrated by those responsible for the Temple. That is why Jesus got so angry and took such swift action. The great religious institution of the Temple was not serving God’s purpose. There is always the danger that religious institutions can serve purposes which are not those of God. Hence discernment and self-critique is always required to make sure we serve God’s plan.
Our late 12th/early 13th-century mosaic at Monreale Cathedral depicts our Gospel reading. We see the temple merchants running away, one holding a stick with a bird cage. The table covered with cold coins and money is being pushed over. The goats are running away, whilst Peter and John on the left watch calmly at the scene. The mosaics are are made of glass tesserae (small individual tiles) and were executed in Byzantine style by both local and Venetian masters. The whole cathedral is covered in gold ground mosaics depicting stories from the Old Testament and New Testament. Inscriptions on each picture explain the subject or saint represented; these are in Latin, except some few which are in Greek. Ours reads: IESUS EJECIT DE TEMPLO OVES ET BOVES ET MENSAS NUMMULARIORUM EVERTIT (Jesus throws the sheep and cattle out of the temple and overturns the money-changers' tables).
The risen Lord is always at work to purify us and also his Church. We all need to be open to Christ’s renewing work among us, within us and within his Church. That is exactly why we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’… as we know there is still a lot of work ahead of us.
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