Jesus and the Money Changers

While I don’t begrudge people seeking bargains on holiday gifts, especially in our troubled economy, I think it’s fair to say that if shopping for discounts leads to shoving, fisticuffs, and arrests, the situation has probably gone a bit too far. I honestly have no idea how or when “Black Friday” officially became a thing. Throughout my childhood and most of my adult life, I don’t remember the day after Thanksgiving being anything more than just a heavy shopping day. Now it has a special designation, replete with its own name, days of hype and media coverage, and disturbing iPhone footage of brawls. When exactly did this happen? Did I miss something?

When I saw some of the images of zealous Black Friday shoppers, it brought to mind a painting I admire by El Greco, the Crete-born Renaissance painter known for his unique depictions of religious events. In the Gospel, Christ and his disciples come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Upon entering the Temple, Jesus encounters noisy hoards of merchants and money changers. He promptly, and rightly, throws a fit over people profiteering in a house of worship. So angered by the desecration of a holy site, Jesus took a whip to the scene, overturned the tables, and castigated the exploiters for turning a house of prayer into “a den of thieves”. It is the only Biblical account of Jesus ever acting violently. This incident is referred to as “The Cleansing of the Temple”.

El Greco painted a stunning and effective rendition of the important scene in this composition. An unabashed proponent of conspicuous, almost garish color tonality and distorted elongated figures, El Greco was considered something of an oddity, rejecting the conventions of his day to pursue dramatic visual expression. He did several versions of the Temple scene. I like this one the best.

Christ Driving the Money Changers From the Temple, circa 1595:

El_Greco_016

Of course, my attempt to draw an analogy with Black Friday is terribly flawed. Christ was objecting to commerce defiling a sacred place where pilgrims come to worship in peace free of distractions, and business existing in a place where business doesn’t belong. Black Friday, in contrast, is all about commerce in places that are most certainly all about commerce. Target and Walmart ARE places to shop, after all. But I think the reason the El Greco painting came to my mind was due to the holiday season being taken over by shopping in general. Gifts, buying and selling, material goods. Truthfully, I have no principled objection to the marketplace and what it entails. Heck I buy stuff. And I very much enjoy giving gifts to friends and loved ones, especially to my niece. But true “gifts” are the gifts of God. Or for my atheist and agnostic readers – of whom I have many – the gifts of life, of nature, of the common man toward one another. Kindness, forgiveness, patience, generosity, goodwill, hope and light. These things, and not flat screen TVs, should be the guiding values of the holiday season, and our lives throughout the year. Love one another.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”

17 thoughts on “Jesus and the Money Changers

  1. Mark says:

    Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the high holy days for those who have made commerce into a religion.

    • artmodel says:

      Mark,

      It’s so true. I shouldn’t be perplexed by it, but I am anyway. I suppose Cyber Monday is a little better in that people don’t get punched in the face! But still, commerce rules.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Claudia

  2. T.O. Fife says:

    “It is the only Biblical account of Jesus ever acting violently.” Tell that to the fig tree . . .

    • artmodel says:

      Todd,

      Yeah, that’s another one, but I was thinking more of physical violence. Thanks for the clarification!

      Claudia

      • T.O. Fife says:

        Now I am not trying to provoke by carrying on this discussion . . . I just think this is interesting, and I hope you do as well. By a chance of timing, I just today came across references to this very subject (and I was not seeking it out). One of the earliest gospels that did not get into the bible was the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” (written sometime in 2nd century). It is an account of the life of Jesus when he was a young boy. And in it, he kills three people (a teacher and two boys). And, he strikes blind a few people. I daresay, if this had gotten into the canon our view of Jesus might be a bit different.
        See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infancy_Gospel_of_Thomas
        and
        http://gnosis.org/library/inftoma.htm

  3. Bill says:

    Many years ago, I was on a trip to Geneva and was walking back to my hotel with a friend after dinner. Dinner had, of course, included a certain amount of wine. Anyway, we’re looking in the store windows along the way and, this being Switzerland, it’s all Swiss army knives, clocks and watches. Finally, he turns to me and blurts out, “Bill! I have a watch. You have a watch. Who’s going to buy all these watches!?”

    I remember that scene every Black Friday. How many huge flat screen TV’s can you watch anyway?

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      It’s gotten so out of hand, hasn’t it? I don’t in any way want to be self-righteous about gift buying, as I’m not special. It just seems to have consumed many people – consumed them at the expense of the truly important things.

      Thanks for sharing your Geneva story! It’s funny because I think people wear watches less than they used to because we all have clocks on our smartphones!

      Claudia

  4. Jim O'Neil says:

    Did you read about the guy in Minnesota that, on Black Friday, threw $1,000 in dollar bills from the 4th floor of the Mall of America as a choir performed “Let it Snow” ? He was arrested. None the less, even though it ended poorly for him, it was a nice change from the usual BF stories in the news.

    • artmodel says:

      Jim,

      I hadn’t heard that story. I’m wondering why he got arrested for that act. But yes it’s certainly a departure from the usual Black Friday news stories.

      Thanks for your comment! Great to hear from you 🙂

      Claudia

  5. scultore says:

    Although I tend to laugh at conspiracy theorists, the transformation of a statistical geek sound bite into a national event, both for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, strikes me as blatant media manipulation. To make it worse, I recieved e-mail about making charitable donations on ‘Giving Tuesday’

    • artmodel says:

      Bruce,

      I’m glad you said this! The whole thing does have media hysteria written all over it. And I got tons of those Giving Tuesday emails! My inbox was flooded.

      Thanks for your comments. Hope to see you soon!

      Claudia

  6. derek says:

    I always have an admiration for fresco paintings> I have studied art history. I am a big fan of this work I wish I can work like that. I do my work which is very unique like Van Gogh meets Warhol which you probably have seen my work that iu have done for the Museworthy Art show. I look forward to seeing these talented artists works. This is a very spiritual work very like Christmas.

    • artmodel says:

      derek,

      The Museworthy Art Show is being prepped this very moment! Of course I received your piece and loved it, as I knew I would 🙂

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  7. Steve Y says:

    Hey Claudia, a very intriguing post as always. First, now that black Friday is preceded by gray thursday, I guess then either red or green will be the color of the day when the stores eventually open on Christmas day; though for the workers it will be a “Blue Christmas” indeed.

    All of that aside, allow me to throw my two cents in on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The subject of your post and the comment by a reader are closely related. The cursing of the fig tree that was a symbol of the nation wasn’t a violent capricious act, but a judgment on Israel, for it’s lack of repentance & faith after the Messiah had come. This also pointed to the eventual cessation of the ministry of the temple. No longer would the gentiles be required to flock solely to the temple to their court, where the money changers sat instead contrary to God’s command in their self-contained economy that Jesus cleansed, merchandising the gifts of forgiveness of sins that God had given for free-not a good thing to do! After the death of Jesus the temple would no longer be the sole locus of God’s sacramental presence.

    Post ascension however, Israel will instead go to both jews & gentiles alike through the apostles with the greater proclamation of forgiveness of sins that continues until the last day. Who so ever will may come…

    Blessings…

    • artmodel says:

      Steve,

      I can’t thank you enough for this clarification and explanation of the cleansing of the temple and the fig tree. I am always enlightened by your comments here on Museworthy! I’ve only recently come back to Bible study after a long period without – part of my return to faith, which is unfolding wonderfully and with tremendous awakening. Much of it is thanks to the support of my wonderful church, and friends I know personally and/or online like you! I strayed for a few years, unfortunately, but no more.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      Claudia

  8. Pat Johnson says:

    It’s amazing – the stores say that the people demand it but yet many places are still reporting weak sales this year as we still recover from the recession of a few years back.

    What blows my mind is that even though so many people decry the stores being open every day around Thanksgiving now, none of this would continue if people stayed home on Turkey Day and Black Friday. Doing nothing is the same as doing something but as our nation continues down the path to a moral slaughter, there will be plenty of sacrificial lambs who will have their souls devoured in the process.

    Quite a thought-provoking post but certainly not unexpected, given how well your write and see the world!

    • artmodel says:

      Pat,

      It’s odd because while many people clearly go shopping on Black Friday for the bargains, far more never set foot in the stores. No one I know does, which leads me to suspect that much of this is a media-driven freakshow. You’re absolutely right that just because the stores are open, it’s ultimately in the hands of the consumers to embrace it or reject it by staying home.

      Thanks so much for posting a comment! Nice to see you here. I appreciate it!

      Claudia

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