Today’s reading from Ezra underscores the importance to Israel of the temple. The destruction of the first temple in 587 BC was an absolute national disaster. This account in Ezra of events seven decades later at the return from exile ends with the note of joy of the people in being able to rededicate their reconstructed holy place.
The account from Mark of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple over 500 years later shows its continued importance. Jesus honors the intent of the temple to be a sacred place, but knows that has been abused. While the precise nature of Jesus’ complaint is complex and a matter of much scholarly dispute, the quotation from the prophet Jeremiah about “a den of thieves” suggests that the problem lay in any form of reliance on the temple as an institution. As the destruction of the first temple should have shown, Israel’s hope was never to be in its religious system but in the God of love, justice, and mercy. Jesus is aggressively pointing to this reality.