Those Money-Changers Again

This is one of the days in the year when the money-changers of the gospel (John 2. 13–25) get turned into money-lenders in popular parlance. It’s an apt malapropism in a way. We in the West have had our share of financial scandals involving outrageous rates of interest charged by pay-day lenders and the like. But the gospel isn’t about charging exorbitant rates of interest as such. The Temple money-changers played an essential cultic role, providing the special coinage which alone could be used in the Temple precincts. The sellers of pigeons and sheep provided the animals to be offered in sacrifice, again an essential service. When Jesus drove them all out of the Temple, he was doing more than making a protest at the way in which the profit-motive had invaded its sacred space. He was asserting the absolute holiness of God in the place of worship, just as the Ten Commandments assert the absolute holiness of God in the midst of everyday life (cf Exodus 20.1–17)

I wonder whether the holiness of God has become a bit problematic for us. We often compartmentalise our lives, setting boundaries to our religious activities in a way that would have seemed entirely alien to an observant Jew of Our Lord’s day. Just as today’s gospel challenges us to examine our attitudes to the Law, so it also challenges us to examine our attitudes to religion in our lives. God is not just for Sundays; nor is holiness something we can confine or control. What Hopkins said of God’s grandeur is equally true of his holiness, ‘it will flame out, like shining from shook foil’ — as the money-changers discovered to their cost.

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