Mar 14, 2012
Artistic representations of the Ten Commandments often depict two stone tablets on which there are two tables of inscriptions.
This portrayal follows from a classical division of the commandments in which there are two specific categories—those that order humanity’s relationship with God and those that order human relationships with one another. If we consider the Bible as a totality, it becomes apparent that the Scriptures give priority to the first table, those commands dealing with God.
The Ten Commandments begin with an insistence that the Lord alone is God and there are to be no other gods besides him. This is not just a principle meant to order humanity’s expressions of ritualized worship, but a statement about the ethos of the entire moral and spiritual order. Whatever it is that humanity worships, be it the gods of the ancients or the allures of wealth, power, pleasure and honors, will by necessity give rise to our perceptions and practices concerning the moral life. The God or gods in whom we place our ultimate concern will direct our lives and determine our choices.
Given that the Bible calls humanity over and over again to relinquish its attachment to false gods and embrace the worship of the one true God, we might take that emphasis as means to interpret Christ’s actions in regards to the moneychangers in the Jerusalem Temple, actions that are traditionally referred to as the “cleansing of the Temple.” The dramatic scene portrays Christ entering the sacred center of Israel’s culture and worship at the height of the Jewish year—the feast of Passover. Christ then raises a ruckus, for he finds the Temple to be not a house of prayer, but a “marketplace.” He turns over the tables of the moneychangers, disrupts the trade in animals for sacrifice, and cleans the place out.