In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict begins the account of the Passion of Jesus with the incident in the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus drives out those who buy and sell there. Unlike the other gospels that put that event immediately before his passion and death, John’s gospel puts it further back, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, as he goes up to the Holy City to celebrate the Passover.
Unlike the other gospels that present one journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, John’s gospel sees Jesus making three journeys there. His chronology is more accurate. He wishes to show that opposition to Jesus at the highest levels began early on. If he overturned the tables in the entranceway of the temple, what would he do next? Destroy it? Alarmed, the city’s leaders kept a close watch on this Galilean trouble-maker.
The pope calls attention to three interpretations for Jesus’ action. First, some say he was trying to reform a system gone bad as abuses crept in. People, including those in charge of the temple, were making money on the system and Jesus was calling attention to their corrupt practices.
Benedict sees more to the event than that.
Others say that Jesus was a Zealot, belonging to a Jewish party intent on forcefully overthrowing a Judaism become too “Hellenized,” too influenced by the prevailing Greco-Roman culture of its conquerors.
There are flaws to this interpretation too, Benedict notes, and points to the way the synoptic gospels describe Jesus as he enters Jerusalem immediately before he cleanses the temple. He rides into the city on a donkey, the humble beast who carries a humble Messiah. The warrior would come on a horse and chariot. He is the shepherd slain for his sheep, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who takes his people’s sins on to himself.
The temple was conceived as more than a place of Jewish worship. According to the Prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 2,2-5) it was seen as a place where all peoples could come to worship the one God. The court of the Gentiles in the temple symbolized their future place. Jesus‘ action symbolically readied Judaism to receive new nations.
In the gospel of John, 12:20 ff, some Greeks ask to see Jesus, just before his passion and death. They represent the new peoples who find their way to the Father through Jesus himself. His death will bring much fruit.
In John’s gospel, he tells the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Jn 4, 21 Jesus becomes the new temple.