Selling animals and birds for sacrifice and exchanging foreign currency were necessary services that the Temple personnel provided for the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem. We know from ancient records that several such markets were conveniently located near the Temple. But under the high priest Caiaphas, the Temple’s outermost courtyard had also been turned into a trading place. And we can easily imagine what it must have been like there.
Merchants haggling. Sheep bleating. Doves flapping and cooing. Money changers clinking their coins. Not to mention the smell. Imagine how difficult it must have been for the God-fearing Gentiles who were permitted to worship in this outer court. Our Lord evicted the traders because he wanted to preserve the Temple as a place of prayer for everyone. He must also have been disturbed by those merchants who charged inflated exchange rates or sold animals for exorbitant prices.
Like the Temple priests and administrators of Our Lord’s day, we who are members of the Church face similar pitfalls. There are too many instances in which self-interest seeks to rule our hearts and our actions. From what I hear more and more Parish Pastoral Council meetings are characterized by disagreements and personality clashes more than a desire to build up the Church and to serve the needs of God’s people. Lack of prayer and quiet before and after Mass in many of our churches seeks to rob us of the joy and peace that should always be a hallmark of our public worship.
In his Gospel Saint Luke guides us to understand how Our Lord is opposed to the desecration of the sacred that is taking place in the hearts of the people involved.
Prayer takes place not only in our churches but also in our hearts and in the midst of our daily lives. We who are temples of the Holy Spirit are ourselves houses of prayer. And we need to guard against the desecration of our sacred space. The money-changers and traders were a distraction to the real focus of the temple. What are the distractions in our prayer life? How do we become like the money-changers and so run the risk of missing the presence of God? We might begin to clean our own house by recognizing the sacred in one another instead of dwelling on so many things that don’t really matter. We are all called to be dwelling places for God; and our lives, like our churches and chapels should be places of prayer where God can be found.