Resource Material for this Sunday
Ideal for catechetical and liturgical dramatization of today's gospel.
March 23 - 3rd Sunday of Lent
Taken from any point of view (religious, political, social or economic) the Temple of Jerusalem was the most important institution of Israel in Jesus’ time. It was so, especially for the religious authorities (priests, sanhedrites, levites, pharisees, scribes). Each of these classes, in their own fashion, subsisted on the Temple and “used” their religious position for their own advantage. It was important as well for the people who were simply overwhelmed by the magnificence of that colossal edifice. The transcendence of the place was well noted by no less than the Roman empire. After a series of vigorous negotiations, the Roman governors succeeded in demanding that a sacrifice be offered in the Temple each day for the emperor. Having accomplished this, the Israelites were excused from any form of worship to the sovereign of Rome.
The Temple was situated in a vast area overlooking the entire Jerusalem. (It occupied a fifth part of the total area of the city.) It included the sanctuary – a chapel where the Jewish religion situated the presence of God – the priests’ atrium, plus three other atria or patios surrounded by porticos with columns. The three atria where lay persons could enter were: the atrium of the pagans (the only place in the Temple where non-Jewish foreigners could pass through), the women’s atrium (the women could not go beyond this zone), and the atrium of the Israelites (where the Jewish men entered). Only the priests could enter the sanctuary. The Temple’s structure and its divisions were a reflection of the discriminatory system of the society itself. The atrium of the pagans (of the gentiles), the outermost, was the so-called “Temple’s esplanade.” It was here that the market for animals to be sacrificed (bulls, cows, sheep, goats, pigeons) were located, as well as the tables for the money changers.
The money changers, whose tables were overturned by Jesus, change foreign money (Greek and Roman) for the sanctuary’s own money as payment for taxes from the pilgrims. Foreign coins had the image of the emperor engraved on them, and therefore were considered by the Jews as blasphemous and impure (the emperor was considered a divinized man). Which is why this type of money could not be accepted in the sacred place and had to be changed. All Israelites were obliged to pay various annual tributes: 1) two drachmas; 2) the first harvest or the first fruit of their work and 3) the so-called “second tithe.” The latter was not delivered to the Temple, but was supposed to be spent in Jerusalem (in food, objects or lodging). During the feast of the Passover, the flow of money in the city was enormous. The money changers not only changed money, but acted as professional bankers.
God was worshipped in the Temple, in the form of prayers, songs, burnt offerings, processions of praise, etc. One type of worship was in the form of sacrifice of the blood of animals and other farm products (wheat, wine, bread, oil). The sacrifices were expressions of profound human religious sentiments. In all primitive cultures, people offered to God something of their own – destroying it, killing it, burning it – as a symbol of submission, as a way of seeking assistance or forgiveness. In Jesus’ time, most of the animals sacrificed were sold there in the Temple or in nearby stores which belonged to the Temple. The animals were handed over to the priests who burned them completely or had them beheaded inside the sanctuary as a pleasing offering to God. Every day of the year there were sacrifices in the Temple, and even more during the week of the Passover: every day two bulls were sacrificed, a ram, seven lambs and a he-goat in the name of all the people. There were also private sacrifices made for various reasons: sins, impurities, promises, vows, etc. The paschal victims, rightfully so-called (young and male lambs, according to what was prescribed by Law) reached tens of thousands in those days. One historian put the figure at more that 250,000 lambs sacrificed during the Passover.
The worship in the Temple represented the most important source of income in Jerusalem. The life of the priests of the aristocracy, depended on this income, as well as the simple priests, and the thousands of employees of different categories (police, musicians, bricklayers, blacksmiths, painters, etc.). Large amounts of money flowed into the Temple coffers. It came in the form of donations from pious persons, from the cattle business, from taxes paid by the Israelites, from pledges, etc. To manage the Temple’s treasury was to occupy the highest economic position of the entire country. The family of the High Priests discharged this function through a body of three devoted treasurers usually from their own lineage. Historical testimonies show that in Jesus’ time, the business of selling animals for sacrifice was a monopoly of Annas and his family. Such fabulous economic power was naturally linked to political supremacy. The Sanhedrin, the highest religious-political-juridical body of Israel, held its sessions in the Temple and was presided over by the high priest.
No institution nor building of our time is comparable to this, no symbol – of power in countries today, can compare to the Temple of Jerusalem. All this should indicate the significance of what Jesus did, a lay person without religious authority to boast of, in severely criticizing the supreme religious authorities of that place.
Of that fabulous Temple, one of the great wonders of the ancient world, as a result of the Temple’s destruction almost two thousand years ago, nothing is left today except a piece of one of the walls that served as its rampart: the so-called “wall of lamentations,” constructed of stones measuring seven meters long. Beside this wall, the Jews still continue to pray. Here they celebrate their feasts and pray and praise the God of their ancestors. In the year 70 CE*, the Temple was razed to the ground by the Romans in order to suppress a Jewish nationalist uprising. Nothing was left of the Temple. Today we can see in its place a vast esplanade (491 x 310 meters) in the Arab barrio of Jerusalem. In the center of this esplanade is the beautiful mosque of Omar or the Mosque of the Rock. (It was built there by the Arabs, who occupied Jerusalem in the VII century.) In the interior of this mosque is a huge rock venerated by the Jews as Mount Moriah (where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac) and where the sacrifices of animals in the Temple took place.
We must not interpret the act of expelling the merchants from the Temple as exclusively religious. The merchants were there precisely because the priests depended for subsistence on the trade. The political, religious and economic were so closely linked in the Temple of Jerusalem that it was impossible to denounce one aspect without implicating the others.
This being the most daring of Jesus’ actions within the context of his prophetic mission, this episode also includes his harshest words gathered within the gospel. These are words of severe criticism against priests who use the name of God in their business pursuits, and who reduced the worship of God to idolatry of money. He assails the theologians who deceive the ignorant with laws they themselves have invented, thus distorting the image of God in exchange for fame and privilege. He denounces the people who have made religion an unbearable burden of laws and norms.
21:12-17; 23:1-36; Mk 11:15-19; 12:38-40;
from the book: A Certain Jesus, Vol. 3 (Chapter
This book offers a new approach to
appreciating the life of Jesus. The first part of the Chapter is in dialogue
form in an up-to-date conversational language. This makes the reader realize
that Jesus was once a very ordinary guy, a typical man in his time. The
last part of each chapter contains an explanation of the biblical references,
thus giving one the perspective for reflection.
Back to Daily Liturgy