Cleansing of the Temple icon

Given the literary evidence in the Gospels, I would affirm Ralph Martin’s assertion that “[While Jesus] revered the Temple as his Father’s house, it held for him no indispensable place and no magical value…His chief concern seems to have been to safeguard the shrine as a ‘house of prayer’ for all peoples” (Worship in the Early Church, p.21). However, Jesus’ view of the Temple seems to vary from evangelist to evangelist in the Gospels. In Mark, for instance, it becomes clear that Jesus has quite the adversarial relationship with the Temple cultus of his day. The famous scene in which he clears the money-changers from the Temple is not so much a “cleansing” as it is a “cursing of the Temple,” as the story is situated within the classic Markan framing narrative of the cursing and withering of the fig tree (11:12-14, 20-21). Writing from a post-Temple perspective, it is not difficult to see how Mark saw the withering of the fig tree as a parallel to the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and attributed both to Jesus’ supernatural power. However, in Matthew’s account—widely considered the most Jewish of all the Gospels—following the “cleansing,” Jesus and his disciples set up shop in the Temple to cure the blind and the lame (21:14-16) before retreating to Bethany. Here, rather than cursing the Temple, it might be reasonably asserted that Matthew views Jesus as establishing the Temple’s true purpose and potential.

Jesus’ relationship with the synagogue is a little more discernable. His presence and activity in the synagogues at Capernaum and Nazareth are well documented, as is the conflict that emerges from that presence. Though his relationship with the synagogue authorities was often tenuous (he was nearly thrown off a cliff once!), Luke 4:14-16 suggests that Jesus spoke regularly in the synagogue, and was even in fact quite popular at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus’ own words in Mark 13:9 seem to assume that his followers would continue to worship in the synagogue just as he had. This, however, raises an interesting question: What changed Jesus’ attitude? If the synagogue was to be a sort of Temple in absentia, why does Jesus appear to be fairly pro-synagogue but later develop a more adversarial view of the Temple?

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