Homily of St Bede the Venerable
That which he did figuratively, by cursing the barren fig tree, the Lord soon afterwards showed more openly, by casting the unrighteous out of the temple. For the tree had not sinned, in that it had no fruit when the Lord was hungry, for the time for fruit was not yet come; but the priests had sinned in carrying on worldly business in the house of the Lord [and charging the worshippers exorbitant rates for the service of money changing], and failing to bear that fruit of piety then due from them, and for which the Lord was hungering. The Lord withered the tree with a curse, that men seeing this, or hearing of it, might better understand how they are liable to be condemned by divine judgment if, having borne no fruit of good works, in mere self-approval of their own discourses, they soothe themselves, as it were, with a rustling shelter of green leaves.
But because they had not understood, the Lord brought upon them the punishment they deserved: and he cast out the traffickers in earthly things from that house, in which, according to the commandment, only what was divine was to be done, victims and prayers to be offered to God, the word of God to be read, heard, and sung. And indeed we must believe that such things only were to be found bought and sold in the temple, as were necessary for the service of the temple itself, according to what we read as taking place on another occasion, when entering into the same temple he found there men buying and selling sheep, and oxen, and doves. For we must certainly believe that it was those coming from a distance who bought all these things from the inhabitants of the place, merely that they may offer them up in the house of the Lord.
If, therefore, the Lord would not have those things sold in the temple, which were to be offered in the temple according to his wish (and this no doubt because of the sins of avarice or even cunning, which is a crime associated with trade), with how much greater severity, do you think, will he punish those whom he may find spending their time there in laughter, or idle talk, or giving themselves up to any other vice? For if the Lord will not suffer temporal business to be carried on in his house, which might freely be exercised elsewhere; how much more shall those things that are not lawfully done in any place merit the wrath of heaven, if they are done in temples consecrated to God? Truly, since the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove upon the Lord, by doves the gifts of the Holy Spirit are rightly signified. And who are they who today sell doves in the temple of God, if not those who in the Church accept a price for the laying-on of hands, whereby the Holy Spirit is given from heaven?
– From: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964