Jesus Drives the Merchants out of the Temple.
I see Jesus entering the enclosure of the Temple with Peter, Andrew, John, James, Philip and Bartholomew. There is a very large crowd both inside and outside the enclosure. Pilgrims are arriving in flocks from every part of the town.
From the top of the hill on which the Temple is built, one can see the narrow twisted streets of the town, swarming with people. One gets the impression that a self-moving, many-colored ribbon has been laid between the white houses. The town looks like a rare toy indeed, a toy made of gaily-colored ribbons between two white threads, all converging on the point where the domes of the House of the Lord are shining.
Inside it is a real market. The concentration of a holy place has been destroyed. Some run, some call, some contract for lambs, shouting and cursing because of the extortionate prices, some drive the poor bleating animals into their enclosures (rough partitions made of ropes and pegs, at the entrance of which stand the merchants or owners, awaiting buyers). Blows with cudgels, bleatings, curses, shouts, insults to the boys who are not prompt in gathering together or selecting the animals, abuses to the purchasers who haggle over prices or who go away, graver insults to those who wisely brought their own lambs.
Near the benches of the money-changers, there is more bawling. It is obvious that either always, or at Passover time, the Temple functioned as a stock exchange or black market. There was no fixed rate of exhange. There must have been a legal rate, but the money-changers imposed a different one, making whatever profit they fancied, for exchanging the money. And I can assure you they were not joking in their usury transactions!... The poorer the people were and the farther they came from, the more they were fleeced: old people more than young people, those coming from beyond Palestine more than the old folk.
Some poor old men looked over and over again at the money they had saved in a whole year, I wonder with how much hard work, they took it out and put it back into their purses dozens and dozens of times, going from one money-changer to another and at times ending up by going back to the first one, who avenged himself for their original desertion by increasing the premium for the exchange. And the big coins passed from the hands of the sighing owners into the clutches of the usurers and were changed into smaller coins. Then a further tragedy would take place with vendors over the choice and payment of their lambs, and the poor old men, particularly if they were half blind, were fobbed off with the most wretched little lambs.
I see an old couple, man and wife, come back pushing a poor little lamb which must have been found faulty by the sacrificers. They cried and begged the vendor, who, far from being moved, replied with nasty words and rude manners.
"Considering what you want to spend, Galileans, the lamb I gave you is even too good. Go away! Or if you want a better one, you must pay five more coins."
"In the name of God! We are poor and old! Are you going to prevent us from celebrating this Passover which may be our last one? Are you not satisfied with what you wanted for a poor little lamb?"
"Go away, you filthy lot. Joseph the Elder is now coming here. I enjoy his favor. God be with you, Joseph! Come and make your choice!"
The man whose name is Joseph the Elder, that is Joseph of Arimathea, enters the enclosure and picks a magnificent lamb. He passes by, stately and proud, magnificently dressed, without even looking at the poor old people weeping at the gate, that is the enclosure entrance. He almost bumps into them when he goes out with the fat, bleating lamb.
But Jesus also is now nearby. He also has made His purchase, and Peter, who probably bargained for Him, is pulling a fairly good lamb.
Peter would like to go at once where they offer the sacrifices. But Jesus turns to the right, towards the dismayed, weeping, undecided old couple, who are knocked about by the crowds and insulted by the vendor.
Jesus, Who is so tall that the heads of the poor old souls reach only up to His heart, lays one hand on the shoulder of the woman and askes her: "Why are you crying, woman?"
The little old woman turns round and she sees the young, tall, stately man, wearing a beautiful new white tunic and a snow white mantle. She must think He is a doctor because of His garments and His aspect and is greatly surprised, because doctors and priests pay no attention to the poor, neither do they protect them from the stinginess of merchants. She explains to Jesus the reason for their tears.
Jesus addresses the lamb vendor:
"Change this lamb for these believers. It is not worthy of the altar, neither is it fair that you should take advantage of two old poor people, only because they are weak and unprotected."
"And who are You?"
"A just man."
"By Your way of speaking and Your companions', I know You are a Galilean. Can there be a just man in Galilee?"
"Do what I told you and be a just man yourself."
"Listen! Listen to the Galilean who is defending His equals. And He wants to teach us of the Temple!"
The man laughs and jeers, imitating the Galilean accent, which is more musical and softer that the Judean, at least I think so.
Many people go near them and other merchants and money-changers take their companion's part against Jesus.
Amongst the people present there are two or three ironical rabbis. One of them asks: "Are You a doctor?", in such a way that even Job would lose his temper.
"Yes, I am."
"What do You teach?"
"This I teach: to make the House of God a house of prayer and not a usury or a market place. That is what I teach."
Jesus is formidable. He looks like the archangel posted on the threshold of Eden. He has no flashing sword in His hand but the beams from His eyes strike the impious mockers like lightning. Jesus has nothing in His hands. All He has is His wrath. And full of wrath, He walks fast and solemn between the benches, He scatters the coins which had been sorted out so meticulously according to their values, He turns over the benches and tables, and everything falls on the ground with great noise, in the bustle of rebounding metals and beaten wood, angry cries, shrieks of terror and shouts of approval. He then snatches from the hands of the stable-boys some ropes with which they were holding oxen, sheep and lambs, and He makes a very hard lash, in which the slip-knots are real scourges: He lifts it, swings it and strikes mercilessly with it. Yes, I can assure you: mercilessly.
The unforseen storm hits heads and backs. The believers move to one side admiring the scene; the guilty ones, chased as far as the external wall, take to their heels, leaving their money on the ground and abondoning in a great confusion of legs, horns and wings, their animals, some of which run and fly away. The bellows, bleatings, and fluttering of turtle doves and pigeons, added to the burst of laughter and shouting of the believers at the escaping usurers, overcome even the plaintive chorus of lambs, slaughtered in another yard.
Priests, rabbis, and Pharisees rush to the spot. Jesus is still in the middle of the yard, on His way back from the chase. The lash is still in His hands.
"Who are You? How dare You do that, upsetting the prescribed ceremonies? From which school are You? We do not know You, neither do we know where You come from."
am He who is Mighty. I can do anything. Destroy this true Temple and I
will raise it to give praise to God. I am not upsetting the holiness
of the House of God or of the ceremonies, but you are perturbing it,
allowing His House to become the center of usurers and merchants. My school is the school of God.
The same school as the whole of Israel had when the Eternal God spoke
to Moses. You do not know Me? You will know Me. You do not know where
I come from? You will learn."|
And turning towards the people, without noticing the priests any longer, tall in His white tunic, with His arms stretched out like an orator at the most important part of his speach, He says:
"Listen, Israel! In Deuteronomy it is said:
"You are to appoint judges and scribes at all the gates... and they must administer an impartial judgement to the people. You must be impartial; you must take no bribes, for a bribe blinds wise men's eyes and jeopardizes the cause of the just. Strict justice must be your ideal, so that you may live in rightful possession of the land that Yahweh your God is giving you."
"Listen, Israel. In Deuteronomy it is said: "The priests and scribes and the whole of the tribe of Levi shall have no share or inheritance with Israel, because they must live on the foods offered to Yahweh and on His dues; they shall have no inheritance among their brothers, because Yahweh will be their inheritance."
Listen, Israel. In Deuteronomy it is said: "You must not lend on interest to your brother, whether the lack be of money or food or anything else. You may demand interest on a loan of a foreigner; you will lend without interest to your brother whatever he needs.."
The Lord said that.
But now you see that in Israel judgements are administered without justice for the poor. They are not inclined to justice, but they are partial with the rich, and to be poor, to be of the common people means to be oppressed. How can the people say: "Our judges are just" when they see that only the mighty ones are respected and satisfied, whereas the poor have no one who will listen to them? How can the people respect the Lord, when they see that the Lord is not respected by those who should respect Him more than everyone else? Does he who infringes the Lord's commandment respect Him? Why then do the priests in Israel possess property and accept bribes from tax-collectors and sinners, who make offerings to obtain their favors, while they accept gifts to fill their coffers.?
God is the inheritance of His priests. He, the Father of Israel, is more than a Father to them and provides them with food, as it is just. But not more than what is just. He did not promise money and possessions to His servants of the sanctuary. In eternal life, they will possess Heaven for their justice, as Moses, Elijah, Jacob and Abraham will, but in this world they must have but a linen garment and a diadem of incorruptible gold: purity and charity, and their bodies must be subject to their souls, which are to be subject to the true God, and their bodies are not to be masters over their souls and against God.
I have been asked on what authority I do this. And on what authority do they violate God's command and allow in the shade of the sacred walls usury on their brothers of Israel, who have come to obey the divine command? I have been asked from what school I come from and I replied: "From God's school." Yes, Israel, I have come from and I will take you back to that holy and immutable school.
Who wants to know the Light, the Truth, the Way? Who wants to hear once again the voice of God speaking to His people, let him come to Me. You followed Moses through the deserts, Israel. Follow Me, because I shall lead you through a far worse desert, to the true blessed Land. At God's command, I will draw you to it, accross an open sea. I will cure you of all evils lifting up My Sign.
The time of Grace has come. The prophets expected it and died waiting for it. The Prophets prophesied it and died in that hope. The just have dreamt of it and died comforted by that dream. It is now here.
Come. "The Lord is about to judge His people and have mercy on His servants", as He promised through Moses."
The people crowding round Jesus stand open-mouthed listening to Him. Then they comment on the new Rabbi's words and ask His companions questions.
Jesus goes to another yard, separated from this one only by a porch. His friends follow Him, and the vision ends.
Excerpted from POEM OF THE MAN-GOD, Volume 1, pp. 285-289