From the Archive: Over the centuries as Christianity bent to the interests of the rich and powerful, the story of Jesus’s fateful week in Jerusalem was reshaped to minimize perhaps its central event, his overturning of the money tables at the temple, a challenge to the merging of religious and political power, says Rev. Howard Bess.
By the Rev. Howard Bess (Originally published April 23, 2011)
Christians have special celebrations for the key events of Holy Week, but they often overlook one of the most important.
Palm Sunday celebrates the entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Maunday Thursday is a solemn replay of his last meal with his disciples. Good Friday takes us through his mock trial and his death of horror on a Roman Cross. Easter is the Christians’ triumphant celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.
A 14th Century depiction of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti
But there is a missing piece. The incident that gives sense to the week’s climactic events is Jesus’s overturning of the money tables at the temple.
Tradition says that the incident was a ceremonial cleansing of the temple of its commercial enterprises because those in charge of the temple had turned a house of worship into a commercial enterprise. Jesus disrupted the commercial operation by upsetting the tables where the temple lackeys sold required animals for sacrifice.
However, modern scholarship is putting an emphasis on understanding this historical incident in context. The first piece of the puzzle is the temple itself.