Justice and peace

Let’s look at one of the more difficult moments of Holy Week – the scourging of the Temple. What does it mean for us to look at a man who drives traders from the Temple with whips because they have exploited God’s people and so defiled and dirtied his holy place, but then refuses to argue with Pilate in any way that will stop him from being killed? Was Jesus a pacifist or not? Did he believe in peace or not?

I think that it boils down to justice and truth – the anger that drives Jesus to drive the traders from the Temple is about a desire for a just treatment of God’s people and a truthful way of living,( and I think it’s important to note that he is not described as physically whipping the traders, but instead overturning their tables and driving them out). The apparent passivity that he displays in relation to his own life is also about being truthful, if he pursues justice and truth to the end he knows full well that he is on a collision course with the ‘powers that be’  and one that will very likely lead to his death.

Truth isn’t a very popular word any more – who really believes in objective truth? Christians do believe in objective truth and we have to keep seeking it and not be surprised if it puts us on a collision course, we might fail through fear, but we have to try to follow through, because Christ has ‘no hands on earth but ours’

Can there really be any peace without real justice?



3 responses to “Justice and peace

  1. For a long time I have found it hard to understand the story of the cleansing of the Temple. The traders in the Temple had to be there so that the offerings brought complied with the law. There is no evidence that the money-changers and sellers of doves exploited anyone. I can’t see any motive for a pious Jew of the time to act in anything like this way.

    My tentative conclusion is that, since the Temple was destroyed by the Romans at about the date the first gospel is thought to have been written, the story was retrojected into the life of Jesus to explain that cataclysmic event. I was interested to see that a scholar I admire, Paula Fredriksen, takes a similar (but far better informed) view here:

    “Undoubtably such a story circulated about Jesus: we have it attested in both Mark and John — though, significantly, not in Paul. But why would the story have started, if Jesus had not performed such an act? Absent evidence, speculations abound: I offer mine, briefly, here. I now incline to see the story of Jesus’ action in the Temple as a post-70 tradition, which harnessed the shock of the Temple’s destruction in such a way that it reinforced Christian belief. Jesus had disapproved of the Temple anyway (Mk 11); he predicted its destruction (Mk 13); what matters is the resurrection (Jn 2); its destruction means that the Kingdom, coupled with Jesus’ return, is at hand. When they see the Temple destroyed, Mark’s Jesus confides to his community, they will know that God “has already shortened the days,” and that “this generation” — the generation straddling both Jesus’ lifetime and the Jewish War — “will not pass away before all these things take place” (Mk 13:29).”

    I agree with you that we need to keep seeking the truth, even if it isn’t what we’d like to believe, so I’m happy to revise my view if new information is provided.

  2. This is interesting information and I think relevant to this story, which as you note is slightly confusing, (although my suspicion is that this is partly because of the context of 20th Century thinking that we bring to it and a particular view of Christ that has a tendency to confuse pacifism with passivity). Like many of the stories in the New Testament, I’m sure that it combines the context of the world the new Christians were inhabiting and their need for reassurance in the face of Jesus’s awaited return and the beginnings of hostility towards this new and confusing sect.

    However, there is evidence that the cost of temple sacrifices was rising inappropriately. In the Mishna, the redaction of the oral tradition of the Pharisees which occurred in about 220 AD, there is specific mention of how expensive the cost of the most lowly sacrifice (two birds) had become.

    Kritut 1:7:
    “If a woman had given birth five times during her life . . . after she brings a single sacrifice, she will be able to eat sanctified foods once again. But she is still under oath to bring four more. It eventually came to pass that the cost of two birds rose dramatically to one gold zuz. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel declared: “I pledge that before I go to bed this very night, the price of birds will fall!” He headed straight to the courtyard and instructed the people to obey the following regulation: “After giving birth five times, a woman . . . needs to bring just one sacrificial offering to cover all five births . . . That very day, the price of birds plummeted to one quarter of a silver zuz.”

    This was obviously a process that occured over time and it’s not unreasonable to assume that this was occurring at the time of Jesus also. This seems even more likely if you combine that with the reports of Annas, the high-priest’s, family and the attitude of the Jewish people towards them as reported in Josephus, and this rhyme from the Pesahim,

    “Woe to the house of Annas!
    Woe to their serpent’s hiss!
    They are high priests;
    their sons are keepers of the treasury,
    their sons-in-law are guardians of the temple,
    and their servants beat people with staves.” (Pesahim 57a)

    The family had booths for exchange on the Mount of Olives and also in the temple courts, again it seems to be an assumption but a reasonable one, that they were making high charges for the trade of the local and foreign currencies that the Jewish people brought to the temple in order to “buy” the half-shekel that was required as a sacrifice during the month before Passover.

    There is no mention by Josephus of a major temple distrbance during the period when Christ was alive other than one involved Samaritans entering the Temple courts and throwing around the bodies of dead men (!) which unsurprisingly got them excluded, but perhaps this only means that the disturbance was less dramatic than reported in Mark (and in fact the other synoptic Gospels do report it less dramatically).

    All in all I think there is enough evidence to suggest that there was a punitive cost on the poor for them to make the sacrifices required whether livestock or temple coinage and Jesus was concerned with the ability of all to draw near to their God so this action makes sense in that context.

    Here are some interesting links I found whilst researching this:-

  3. [I posted this earlier but there was a WordPress blip, so sorry if there are duplicates].

    Thanks for your response and the links. The book which changed the way I think about the cleansing of the Temple is one which I’ve banged on about here before, Judaism Practice and Belief by Sanders. Sanders’ general account of the Temple made me suspect that the cleansing is unhistorical, but Sanders says elsewhere (in The Historical Figure of Jesus, I think) that the latter was the “proximate cause” of Jesus’s crucifixion. So I’m curious about why Sanders thinks Jesus acted in this way.

    Albert Schweizer suggested that the cleansing was a symbolic act, which fits with the less dramatic disturbance you mention, and perhaps that’s what Sanders had in mind too.

    A book that I have been meaning to read for some time is No Stone on Another: Studies in the Significance of the Fall of Jerusalem in the Symoptic Gospels, by Lloyd Gaston. That might shed some further light on this curious incident in the gospels.

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