‘Fetch me those cords,’ Jesus said, gesturing to where they lay scattered near a table of caged doves. The merchant of the doves looked stonily at James as he approached the pile but did not meet the eyes of Jesus standing behind. The cords were a perk of the job – not worth much, but those little extras all helped. The doves had to be secured in their cages on the donkey; you bought the doves, you got the cord. James looked at the merchant, weighing whether to explain himself. He saw the man was resigned to the loss, albeit faint storm clouds crossed his eyes. James said nothing, collecting the cords and returning to Jesus.
How different this would have been, Jesus thought to himself with an unseen, humourless chuckle. How different, if he had arrived here with his team all refreshed from a miraculous feed of figs from that tree to which they had paid a fruitless visit on the way in that morning. His words alone might have propelled the tables across the floor of the temple, oxen, sheep, doves and merchants tumbling with them! What a sight, those magnificently arrayed Pharisees collecting themselves from the dust-clouded heap, brushing and plucking at feathers, hair and dung on their soiled robes!
What now? Should he even proceed? The fire was gone. Spent on that hapless tree, replaced now only by a lingering sadness, thoughts of his Father.
‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up’; the words passed through Jesus’ mind. Yes, indeed. He might not be eating this morning, nonetheless he should be ‘eaten’. So it must be.
Jesus seated himself on an empty wooden crate in the midst of the courtyard. The disciples were uneasy about their prominent position, making small talk, shuffling their feet, glancing around then back to Jesus. All eyes were on him, not the disciples’ eyes only. He was platting something from the cords.
It was easier when Jesus was speaking or healing people. Then he genuinely was the centre of attention. The disciples knew where to stand, what to do, responding as best they could to any enquiries, but often they were more or less ignored. That was fine. Now there was a growing apprehension in the scattered crowd as they went about their business, something was building, no one knew what. The disciples felt probably they should know, at least everyone else expected them to know, but when ever did they? Jesus was unpredictabe, that was all you could predict.
And the way he just sat down in the midst and behaved like this was his own living room! He was always like this in the temple, like nowhere else. He would lounge about, watching the proceedings. Often he didn’t even preach or minister. Now, the more he relaxed, the more everyone else got on edge. Hopefully he would soon get on with whatever it was he had planned. Several of the Pharisees had gathered and were conferring about something, their eyes like daggers probing Jesus’ position; then one of them left, apparently on some kind of errand. They were always plotting, never anything good. The less time they had, the better. Keep one step ahead, that was the best defence against them. It was a miracle Jesus hadn’t been taken into custody already.
While Jesus was working, a quiet assurance rose within him. He did not have at his disposal the hurricane of anger he might otherwise have felt, but he was certain nonetheless about what should be. And it would be refreshing to finally do something, not as always thrust his passions silently skyward to find their answer in One all-knowing, everlasting, unchanging.
The scourge – a short makeshift whip with several tails – was finished. Jesus rose. Within him rose a flood, deep, penetrating and passionate, like a force field, filling him, surrounding him in those first steps to the table of the nearest merchant. A loud crack split the air of the temple. Everyone who heard it felt it, as if it had fallen on their own skin. A sweep of the scourge sent containers and coins tumbling. Jesus said something, he scarcely knew what. ‘Take these things hence – make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise,’ was what others heard.
The tables tumbled, the merchants fled. The Pharisees stormed across to each other, then to the door, then re-entered striding with purpose, only to stop far distant, gesticulating and exclaiming to each other, like actors playing in the audience, without a part in this magnificent drama on what had been their own stage. In those with nothing to lose from the scourge a thrill arose, like the thrill of lightning and the clap of thunder when a brewing storm finally breaks. And as it broke a lightness filled the air, and amidst the tempest the gentle rain of Jesus’ tears began to fall as he sailed atop the thunder cloud of cleansing, until all was spent, and he sat again, and wiped his eyes and his brow.
It was quiet now. The Pharisees had left to some other venue to nurse their shattered prestige. A few children who had been watching from the door now scampered in, seeing in the upturned tables and absence of supervision a chance for play. They released some doves from an abandoned cage and ran shrieking after them, jumping and swinging their arms as the stunned birds fluttered away. A few pious folk came in and sat on the ground of the courtyard where the disciples also sat next to Jesus. No one touched the mess or rebuked the children; it was not known any more what should be done in the temple, only who should do it, and he remained silently seated with his eyes to the ground.
Before long a blind man appeared at the door guided by men on either side. ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they called as they entered. Jesus looked up; he seemed in good spirits. As the new arrivals neared, he said, ‘Friends, what brings you here?’ The children had gathered, anticipating some wonder of healing to be seen. And as the blind received his sight, and lifted his arms heavenward, they began to jump, and run, and call, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna to the Son of David!’, the new passphrase of the temple. And among the upturned chairs and the coins lying ungathered, all was as it should be.