The cleansing of the temple occurs early in John’s Gospel, right after Jesus’ first miracle at Cana. It is as if the tone of His ministry – Because zeal for my house consumes me, I am scorned by those who scorn you (Ps. 69:10) – is being established at the very outset. Jesus does not do anything part way. The water was not changed into ordinary wine, but the finest. Now nothing restrains His zeal, a zeal that would lead to Him being scorned and, eventually, killed.
St. Paul also refers to this psalm verse in his letter to the Romans (15:3) when he instructs his converts that their lives must be zealous for God, not themselves, in the same way that Christ was zealous for the Father’s will and His house. To please God means to help each other, especially the weak, for the building up His house, the Church, for the Glory of God.
If we open our hearts to the heart of Jesus, we can see this same zeal lived throughout His life. The verbs in this episode – drove, spilled, overturned – resonate all through the Gospels.
Often we hear how Jesus drove out demons and evil spirits. That is not to equate the money changers and the animals with demons but to show the consistency of His zeal.
The coins that He spilled were the life-blood of the money changers, at least for their worldly existence, but Jesus’ zeal would lead Him to spill not something transitory as coins, but His very blood for the remission of our sins.
The tables that were overturned might call to mind the old ways that were replaced by the two greatest commandments and the redefining of Love that Jesus would not only profess but carry out in His passion, death and Resurrection.
Finally, we are the house, the Church, the people of God, for whom His zeal consumes Himself.