107- With a Whip in His Hand

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Since very early in the morning, the vast esplanade of the Temple of Jerusalem was already teeming with vendors selling cows, lambs and pigeons. The hawkers had positioned their carts of amulets and other junk beside the columns of Solomon’s Gate. Above the stairways facing the inner atria were the money changers. Curses and hagglings echoed, while like a heavy cloud, the stench of blood of beheaded animals and their manure mixed with the rancid smell of the thousands of pilgrims cramming into the esplanade.

In the midst of such confusion of animals and people, we forced our way through the Golden Gate: an avalanche of peasants from Bethany and strangers from Galilee, men and women waving branches of laurel and palm trees enthusiastically, shouting hoarsely and acclaiming the Messiah, the Son of David….

All: Hosanna, hosanna, we want justice today, not tomorrow! Hosanna, hosanna, we want justice today, not tomorrow!

A Man: Long live the prophet from Nazareth!

All: Long live the prophet from Nazareth!

Another Man: Down with Caiphas and all his cohorts!

All: Down with all of them!!

Jesus was in front of us, mounted on a donkey; he was nearly crushed by the huge multitude that filled up the atrium of the gentiles.

Jesus: Friends from Jerusalem! The Kingdom of God has come! The old world is coming to an end! God has seen the oppression of our people and heard our clamor! God wants to free us from all bondage, that we may serve Him in this new land with full freedom, with our heads held high! May justice flow like a river and peace reign like an overflowing torrent!

A Man: Long live Jesus, the Messiah of God!

All: Long live Jesus!

Another Man: The Messiah is here, the Son of David!

All: The Messiah is here, the Son of David!

The scorching sun parched the tiles carpeting the Temple’s esplanade. From the walls of the Antonia Fortress, the Roman soldiers, garbed in their armour plate and armed with lances, looked at us disdainfully and waited for orders to disperse the crowd….

All: The Messiah is here, the Son of David!

We had hardly stepped on the first level when a group of Levites and guardians of the Temple cut our steps short and threatened us with clenched fists…

A Levite: To hell with all of you! May we know who’s behind this tumult?

Jesus: Who else but you yourselves, who have converted the House of God into a marketplace!

All: That’s right! Very well said!

All: The Messiah is here, the Son of David!

Levite: Hey you, Galilean rebel, can’t you hear what this rascal is yelling? The insolence he’s shouting?

A Man: Jesus is the Messiah! Long live Jesus!

All: Long live Jesus!

Levite: Silence them, the blasphemers!

Jesus: Neither you nor anyone can, for we’ve come in the name of the Lord! If you shut us up, stones will rain down!

Levite: Is this a threat, damn you?

Jesus: It is God who lifts his hand against you. It is God who covers His face seeing such abominations committed by you in the holiest of places!

A Woman: Nice going, Jesus! C’mon, give it to them, Jesus. Give it to them!

A Man: Stand up in the name of the Lord!

All: Yes!!!

The Levites had to give way to let us pass. Jesus’ eyes were blazing like hot coals… He hastened toward the first steps, near the great stairway where small tables were set up for the money changing transactions. It was here where the Greek and Roman currency was changed to pay the Temple tax for the benefit of Caiphas and his priests. Jesus climbed onto the post of the terrace, extended his arms like Moses did when he split the Red Sea into two, and pointed to the imposing Temple of gold and marble before him….

Jesus: Friends from Jerusalem! Inside are the priests and the pharisees, and the teachers of the Law, sitting in the chair of Moses! If Moses were alive, he would have given them a good whipping! They claim themselves to be God’s representatives, yet, whom do they personify but Mammon, the god of money! They invoke the Law of Moses with their lips, but their hands are after the calf of gold!

All: Very good! Hit them hard, Jesus!

Jesus: Look at the hypocrites! They preach, but don’t follow what they preach! They burden us with tons of laws, drown us with taxes, with fastings and penitence, with a thousand regulations they themselves have invented which they themselves do not observe. We are bowed down with the yoke around our necks, while they don’t lift a finger to relieve us of the burden!

All: That’s right! Give it to them, Jesus!

Jesus: Hypocrites! They say we are all brothers and sisters, but they hasten to occupy the first seats and wear expensive clothes, and they want us to kiss their hands and call them our fathers and teachers! Teachers of what? Of lies, for that’s what they teach us! Fathers of what? Fathers of greed, since that’s what they do, they rob and do business with the things of God!

All: Very good, very good!!

Jesus: We call no one father nor teacher since there is only one, who is up there – the God who raises the humble, and topples the thrones of the powerful! Long live the God of Israel!

All: Long live the God of Israel!!

At that moment, a group of furious priests was descending the steps in front of them, together with the commandant of the Temple guards. They were wearing black tunics and high tiaras on their heads…

Priest: Shut up, damn you! What right have you to insult the minister of God? You’re nothing but an ignoramus, a filthy farmer, who stinks more than all the garbage of Gehenna!

Jesus: You’re the ones who stink, followers of Satan! You filled the house of God with cows and sheep to fatten the pockets of that old thief Annas!

Priest: How dare you talk that way, son of a bitch! Don’t you know where you are?… This is the Temple of the Most High of Israel! You’re just a few steps away from the Holy of Holies where our blessed Lord dwells!

Jesus: No, He’s not here. The God of Israel got up and left, because you made his house into a marketplace and his religion into a business enterprise! I tell you, not a single stone shall remain of this Temple! Everything will fall down, like the statue seen by the prophet Daniel, an enormous and expensive statue, but with feet of clay! It took only one stone to crush the whole thing! We are that stone and today, God brought us to this Temple with foundations of clay!

Priest: We will hurl stones at you, agitator, blasphemer! You have spoken against the holy Temple of the Most High!

Jesus: You’re mistaken, my friend! This is not a Temple, but a tomb! A sepulcher covered with marble, but whose interior is rotten! You too, stink like a corpse! You’re like tombs painted with lime! You’re beautiful on the outside, but inside, you’re full of worms! Hypocrites! You despise the widows, sell the orphans for a pair of sandals and here you are giving alms. First, you deprive the orphans of their bread and then you fast to honor the Lord. First, you threaten the poor with your fist, and then you come as pious men to pray in the Temple, as if God were not aware of your lies, pharisees and charlatans! You see the speck in your brother’s eye while you cannot see the plank in your own.

All: Hosanna, hosanna, we want justice today, not tomorrow! Hosanna, hosanna, we want justice today, not tomorrow!

Priest: This man is possessed by the devil! He is dangerous for everyone. Silence him! Silence him!

Jesus: Of course, it’s not good for them that we tell the truth. The truth sets people free and you want us to remain blindfolded so you can take advantage of us. You are the devil, a race of vipers, sons of the serpent who deceived our first parents!

All: That’s our man. C’mon, Jesus, give it to them!

Then, four bejewelled elders from the Sanhedrin dressed in pure linen appeared at the threshold of the Gate of Corinth, called the Beautiful. They were the most feared and the most powerful of the magistrates of the country, relatives of the high priest, Caiphas, of the highest aristocracy in Jerusalem… We stepped back a little, when we saw them leave. Even the money changers and the vendors who were crammed into the stairways left their wares to witness what would happen…. The magistrates remained above, beside the Gate. They were burning with rage at Jesus, although they contained themselves in order not to incite more people…

Magistrate: Enough of this nonsense, fake Galilean. Who do you think you are anyway?… Do you think we’ll tolerate you, a mere farmer with broken sandals, to air your grievances right under our noses?… Get out of here! Do it peacefully or we’ll be constrained to use violence…. We are asking you to leave this place right now!

Jesus: It is you who must go and leave us in peace… You are the cheats in this place, you have committed more crimes than we can imagine!

Magistrate: This rebel must die! He should be stoned right away!

Jesus: Sure, do it, as is your accustom! First, you kill the prophets, and then, when the risk is over, you build them monuments and adorn their tombs! Murderers! Your hands are stained with the blood of the innocent! But God will ask you to render an account of all the blood you have shed, from the blood of the just Abel to that of Zacharias, the son of Barachias, whom you murdered right here by the altar of God!

One of the elders, his eyes fuming with rage, raised his fist and cursed:

Magistrate: Woe to you, mad dog!! Woe to all of you, rebels!! God’s punishment will be terrible!

Jesus: Your words don’t scare us, magistrate of the Sanhedrin. God is on our side. It is God who will cast the curse on you who have made His House of prayer into a den of thieves!

Jesus bent down to the ground to get the ropes used to tie cattle. He tied them around his hand as he rushed up the steps two by two. We followed behind, hurriedly… Jesus brandished the whip with so much fury that the four elders fled through the door where they had first appeared. When Jesus reached the top, he shouted with authority….

Jesus: Get out of here, merchants of Satan, out of here!!

The uproar was frightening. Jesus overturned the tables full of money which rolled down the stairway. The people threw themselves at the money and the money changers were so enraged that they, too, jumped over the people. Again and again Jesus hurled his whip at the tax scales. The cows and sheep were so terrified they ran in all directions…. People screamed and the vendors cursed at the top of their voices. Pigeons as well as fists flew into the air…. As the tumult got more intense, soldiers from the Antonia Tower began to mobilize. But Jesus continued talking with a passion…

Jesus: Tell Caiphas we shall confront him tomorrow in his palace, and tomorrow afternoon, we shall accuse Herod in his den. And then, Pontius Pilate will be next. God will triumph on the third day! The great day of the Lord has come, the Day of Liberation!

All: Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom….!

Levite: Arrest that rebel! Don’t let him escape!

Priest: Put the entire city under arrest, if necessary!

A Woman: Oh my God, they’ll kill all of us! Run, children, run!

Amid that human whirlwind, we were able to get Jesus out, through the gates leading to barrio Ophel. From there, we proceeded secretly to the Gate of Zion, and finally to Mark’s house, who was Peter’s friend… At night, we escaped to Bethany… That day, the Temple Hill of Jerusalem trembled, just like the hill in Carmel did, when Elijah lashed the whip of God against the priests of Baal.

*Comments*
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 × 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.

(Mt 21:12-17; 23:1-36; Mk 11:15-19; 12:38-40; Lk 11:37-52; 19:45-48; 20:45-47; Jn 2:13-22)

107- With a Whip in His Hand

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