After arriving in Jerusalem, the first thing that Jesus did was to go to the temple where he proceeded to throw out the people who were buying and selling animals there.
This episode in the life of Jesus is hard for us to understand because it seems so out of character for him.
Why did Jesus who was usually so restrained act with such aggression on this occasion?
12Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21)
You can read the whole of Matthew 21 here.
One of the things I mentioned yesterday was that the Jews were expecting Jesus to rescue them from the Romans, but the first thing that he did was to go to the temple. Perhaps that made sense to those watching who perhaps thought that he was going to pray before taking action. However, people must have been shocked as the calm and peaceful Jesus suddenly began to turn over the tables in the temple courts.
What was this all about?
In order for a Jew to worship at the temple, they had to sacrifice an animal in order to take away their sin so that they could be made right with God. The people buying and selling in the temple courts were selling animals that people could then use for this purpose. There were also money changers because you needed to change your Roman money into Jewish money which was the only currency used in the temple.
Why was this so bad, weren’t these traders helping people to worship?
In the UK we have what are known as Motorway service stations and in theory these are great and helpful places. You can stop and you have everything you need, such as shops, restaurants and toilets all in one site. The problem though, is that the food in these places is usually overpriced and it is not always very good quality. The service stations know that they are guaranteed custom from most people once they have stopped and so they are under no pressure to charge fair prices.
When a Jew arrived at the temple, they needed an animal to make themselves right with God. The traders knew that the people NEEDED an animal and so they sold their doves at high and inflated prices. The money changers had no incentive to offer a fair exchange rate and so they didn’t.
The people coming to worship had no choice, they had to choose between being ripped off and being unable to get to God.
Jesus doesn’t criticize the traders for selling, he criticizes them for acting like robbers.
What makes all this worse is that the dove was the sacrifice of a poor person. If people couldn’t afford a lamb, they were permitted to bring two doves instead (Leviticus 5.7).
Jesus was angry that people were being ripped off, but he was especially angry that the poor were being exploited.
When Jesus trashed the stalls in the temple courts, he was essentially saying that
It should be free to get to God.
A few days after this, Jesus died on the cross as our perfect sacrifice so that access to God could be opened for all without the need for a temple and animal sacrifice (more of that on Friday).
Jesus cleansing the temple as this is known leaves me with these four thoughts.
The way is now open for us to know God
We have the real privilege of knowing and following God in life knowing he is with us, but will we?
Jesus was furious that poor people were being ripped off.
Do we share Jesus’ strength of feeling about this? If we do, how does that affect the way we live and spend our money? Is it important to us that people weren’t exploited to provide what we are buying? The Fairtrade label makes this easy for us, buying fairly traded goods is more costly but let’s face it, a few pence more for us is better than people being exploited!
Will we have the courage to take action over things that are not fair?
Jesus took action on this point of principle. How about us? It’s easy to complain about injustice but it’s another thing completely to do something constructive to change things. How can we make a difference today?
Will we accept that the problem may not be with everyone else?
The Jews thought that Jesus had arrived to sort out the Romans, but instead he was critical of a way of living that had become normal at the centre of Jewish life.
If you always think that everyone else is to blame then you are probably wrong! Let’s be open to becoming more aware of our own faults and shortcomings and as we identify them we can then address them in order to move forwards.
Tune in tomorrow for
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Throughout this week, I’ll be writing a series of blogs called ‘What is it all about?’ that help us to think about the events that led up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.