Peter Koenig offers an evocative view of one of the most dramatic stories in the New Testament, Jesus’ so-called ‘cleansing of the Temple.’ We can’t help but notice the aquatic colored clothing worn by the Christ figure, matched by the at-first-surprising color of the doves. Fairly quickly we notice the similar but slightly differently colored paper currency falling out of the overturned cash boxes of the merchants and money-changers. Though both doves and lambs might be presented as forms of offering in the temple, the lambs are not depicted in the same hue as the doves.
Some translations render Jesus’ critical statement as, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Another way of translating that last word is “house of trade,” which may better locate the object of his anger. Throughout the Bible, from the days of the Temple’s prototype in the wilderness, to its fulfillment in the New Jerusalem, God provides a place and a way for us to offer gifts.
The ‘exchange’ that is the object of his wrath may not be so much the trade of money for sacrificial animals, as it is the spirit of exchange that shapes and colors much of the prayer occurring within this place. By overturning the tables and driving out the animals, Jesus points to a new Temple where we meet God. He becomes the new place of offering, where pure offering replaces all the false substitutes we create by our efforts to engage God in an exchange.
Why the aquatic colored vesture for Jesus in the painting, as well as for the doves? I am not aware of any explanation by Peter Koenig. The whip in Jesus’ hand reflects a detail unique to John’s Gospel. The color of his clothing may therefore be connected with his statement on another visit to the Temple, implying that he is the source of living water. Living water and the life-giving Spirit are thematically linked in the Fourth Gospel. As a dove does at his Baptism, the similarly-colored doves may represent the Holy Spirit. Here we see the Lamb of God, who has come into the world in order to offer it up to the Father in the Spirit. Entering the Temple, he sends earthly lambs scattering, and pushes aside false ways we use to secure life and happiness through exchanges we try to make with God. Instead, Jesus invites us to join him, in his whole and complete self-offering.
The Cleansing of the Temple, (C) Peter Koenig. For this and other images by the painter, please see the website from which this painting was retrieved, http://www.stedwardskettering.org.uk. For a link to my homily on the theme of offering and exchange, in relation to John’s account of the Cleansing of the Temple, click here.