I’ve always struggled with the story of Jesus, in a seeming rage, turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. But after reflecting on how the evil spirit pesters us constantly, I have a new understanding of what was going on in that Gospel story. Jesus was not reacting to the buyers and sellers themselves, but to the evil spirit at large. The holy place of the Temple, a house of prayer, became corrupted with greed. That greed was caused by human beings, yes, but architected by the evil spirit.
Jesus had witnessed many ways how the evil spirit could corrupt. He was even personally tempted by the evil spirit in the desert. But in the Temple Jesus had had enough. The story reveals that Jesus shared our human nature, our built-in human response when we’ve had enough with the evil spirit. We notice unhealthy patterns in ourselves and the world at large, we notice how the evil spirit seems continually to draw humankind toward self-destruction, and sometimes the evil spirit causes us to hit rock bottom. At that point we respond like Jesus, with anger, and turn over tables. We’re fed up with evil and sin, so we must take drastic action. We must be forgiving and gentle with ourselves, but we can’t be gentle with the evil spirit.
In the Temple that day Jesus was turning over the tables of injustice. He was reacting to the evil spirit that fuels systemic sin, corruption, and drives humankind toward brokenness and destruction. In fact, this story is often called the “Cleansing of the Temple.” How do we cleanse the evil spirit from the world? Unfortunately, we can’t change others, but we can be attentive and make sure that the good spirit is driving our choices. And while we do what we can to bring the good spirit into the world, we may still get fed up from time to time and need to overturn the tables of the evil spirit.
For more on the Ignatian understanding of good and evil spirits, read Discernment in a Nutshell.