Holy Week with Images of Grace - Amy Scott Robinson
As we enter into Holy Week we are going to highlight selections from our Lent books each day, beginning with Images of Grace by Amy Scott Robinson.
The cleansing of the temple
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers.’ The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’
Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself”?’ MATTHEW 21:12–16
In an abrupt switch of images, we follow Jesus from his peaceful entry into Jerusalem to his marching into the temple and overturning tables. The God of peace angrily drives people out of his temple in a mess of shouting, crashing and the flying feathers of frightened doves. What is going on? Occasionally, to inspire me to clean my own house, I watch one of those programmes where a team of cleaners go into an obscenely filthy or hoarded home and attempt to restore it to order before it is condemned. Often the kitchen is the worst area of the house to be tackled. You couldn’t possibly prepare food or eat in it without getting several kinds of food poisoning. The fridge is full of mouldy food, the cupboards are a haven for rats, mice and cockroaches, and flies are breeding in the sink full of dirty dishes. Before any kind of deep cleaning can be done, the whole place has to be emptied, and most importantly, the vermin have to be evicted.
Jesus marched into the temple and swept out everything that didn’t belong there. As a twelve-year-old, he had referred to the temple as ‘my Father’s house’ (Luke 2:49); now, it must have seemed like coming home to a house full of squatters who had wrecked the place. The money changers were intruders, making an immoral fortune out of God’s people who were trying to follow God’s commands; they changed money for temple coins at unfavourable rates and sold sacrificial animals for far more than they were worth, so that people who had travelled too far to bring their own animals had to pay over the odds. It was as if, arriving at church, you had to rent a pew (extra for a cushion if you want to be comfy, and a blanket if you’re cold), pay per hymn to be allowed to sing out loud and buy your wafer if you wanted to partake in Communion. In this way, the people buying and selling in the temple were putting barriers between people and the worship of God.
With these people still in place, the temple couldn’t be used properly for its purpose. It was like a kitchen full of mould and rats, in which any food produced would be tainted: the worship of God was being tainted. Jesus cleared out the intruders, restoring the temple to its proper use, and then went straight into using it for God’s glory. Once the kitchen is clean, the food that comes out of it is good again. Jesus spent his time in the temple revealing God’s goodness, healing those who came to him there, while the voices of children praised him. The chief priests and scribes were angry, because the children were naming Jesus as the Messiah (Son of David) and they expected him to silence them. This is the moment, in the gospel of Luke, when Jesus responds that if these voices were silenced, the rocks would cry out (Luke 19:39–40). The uncertainty about Jesus’ identity, the way he used to warn insightful followers not to share that he was the Messiah, has ended. The veil is being lifted, the glass becoming clearer. The children’s voices signify the removal of yet another barrier of understanding between God and his people; like dominoes, more will come tumbling down this week. For now, the Messiah was openly in God’s purified temple, doing God’s work and receiving worship.
The cleansing of the temple recalls some of the other images of cleaning that we have seen in this book. Do you remember in Isaiah 1 (part two) how bloodstains needed to be removed from the hands that were raised in worship? Or in Malachi (part four) how Judah and Jerusalem were purified like silver in order to stand before the Lord? This was the work Jesus was doing in the temple. He was removing the stain so that people could worship God; removing the dross so that the works of God for his people could shine through. It was only the beginning of the same work he would complete by the end of that week.
If we are living stones being built into God’s temple, what needs to be removed from us to allow for pure worship to take place?
Lord Jesus, you sweep away injustice; your anger burns against those who put up barriers between God and the worship of his people. Where space has been made for you, wonderful things happen. Show me what thoughts need to be overturned in me, what attitudes need to be kicked out of me, for God’s good works to take place in me. Amen
Amy Scott Robinson is an author and performance storyteller. After studying English at Christ's College, Cambridge, she trained as a teacher and began writing for charities and providers of liturgical resources, before publishing her own works on puppetry and story. She is married to the rector of four rural parishes in Suffolk, where she is also the benefice children’s worker. She lives in the Rectory and has two children, two guinea pigs, and at any given moment, a half-finished cup of cold tea.