Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money-changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money-changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
El Greco painted several versions of this scene. Here we see an early one before 1570, now in Washington DC, and one in his mature Mannerist style from about 1600, now in London.
From the NGA website:
“In this tempestuous scene, El Greco depicted an angry Christ driving the moneychangers from the Temple. An uncommon theme, it became increasingly popular in the latter half of the sixteenth century, promoted by the Council of Trent as a symbol of the Catholic church’s attempt to purify itself after the Protestant Reformation. Here El Greco portrayed partially draped women and bare-chested men writhing and twisting to escape the blows of Christ’s scourge, emphasizing the agitation of the participants and exaggerating their irreverence. The setting is one of classical grandeur, more reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance palace than of the sacred precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem.
This panel was painted in Venice before El Greco made his way to Spain. The illusionistic space and voluptuous figures in this early work are vastly different from the flattened space and stylized forms of Byzantine art, which continued to dominate painting in El Greco’s native Crete. El Greco’s arrival in Venice, in about 1567, coincided with a high point in that city’s artistic achievement. That the Cretan artist had absorbed the influence of the Venetian masters and taught himself a new way of painting is evident in the movement and drama, solidly modeled figures, and boldly brushed colors of this panel. The influence of the Venetians is equally evident in the elaborate architectural setting with its complicated perspective.”
And from the London Museum:
“In the time of Christ, the porch of the Temple in Jerusalem accommodated a market for buying sacrificial animals and changing money. Christ drove out the traders, saying, ‘It is written “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you make it a den of thieves.’ (Matthew 20). This episode is known as the Purification of the Temple.
The picture is dominated by the figure of Christ, poised to unleash his whip. On the left are the traders and on the right are the Apostles. In the 16th century the subject of the Purification of the Temple was used as a symbol of the Church’s need to cleanse itself both through the condemnation of heresy and through internal reform.
The reliefs in the background allude to the themes of punishment and deliverance. On the left Adam and Eve‘s expulsion from Paradise prefigures the Purification of the Temple, and on the right, the Sacrifice of Isaac prefigures Christ’s death as the source of redemption.
El Greco painted the subject several times throughout his career, both in Italy and in Spain. This version, with its strong colours and elongated forms, was probably painted in Toledo in about 1600.”
For an article on El Greco’s several versions, click here.
With this reading I was reminded of the recent attempts by Pope Francis to reform the Vatican’s finances as well as his critique of the excesses of capitalism. May the Lord bless and protect the holy Father in his attempts to cleanse the Temple!