This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the Four Gospels* is from Matthew 21:12-13, regarding Jesus’ reaction to business being done in the temple.
12 Jesus 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.’”
There are few reported instances recorded in the Bible where Jesus became angry–and since this one involves money, we should probably take keen notice. Surely this is the most memorable one, when Jesus overturned tables and drove merchants out of the temple courts.
I think its important to note that in this verse and elsewhere Jesus never condemns business. Jesus seems to have an ambivalent attitude towards it, but he does seem to spend time in the market place during his ministry. Here Jesus objects to the use of the temple, the place where one goes to focus on God, to make financial transactions: changing money and selling animals to be used for sacrifice.
Money changers exchanged foreign currency into locally used money. Monies were needed in the temple for temple tax and other things such as offerings. We are not sure if the money changers or the temple priests charged a fee for the transaction, but I assume there was always a ‘spread’ between what they exchanged it for, and what they got for it when they moved money between countries.
Doves where being sold to be used as sacrifices in the temple, for the pilgrims visiting Jerusalem as well as for residents. The coming Passover was an important holiday, and business was probably good for the money changers and dove sellers.
Jesus was referring to the temple as being Holy, but man was corrupting it. Imagine going to church, and instead of just walking into the church’s foyer to hang your coat, get a bulletin and then enter the sanctuary to get ready for service, you encounter people selling a lot of things, like a crowded marketplace; people bartering, goods beings exchanged, and cash registers k-chinging.
The Sabbath in the temple or in the church is to be a time of worship, teaching, prayer, communion, reflection, repentance, learning and experiencing God without these transactions. Financial dealings can be one of the most distracting things; thinking about profit and loss changes our motivation. I am not sure if everyone entered through this financial process, but I imagine it was probably chaotic, resembling a ticket line–congregants entering, getting their money out, exchanging and selling. I think Jesus objected to three things: 1.) focus on money and not God, which you couldn’t avoid as you made your way through the courts 2.) a barrier of needing to have wealth to enter worship, maybe not required, but since it was embarrassing for those that lacked funds, it probably prevented some from attending 3.) the temple being used to make money off of God.
Again, few instances are recorded of Jesus getting angry; he was probably mad about these three things. How does this translate to today? Interesting question, few churches are integrated today; most people attend a church with other people in their social economic class. Even if our church has people that are above or below us, do we know them, are we in community with them? The doors are just not that open or welcome to the poor in some upper class churches.
When we go to church, God wants to encounter us, and we should want to encounter God. Our state of mind probably should be a little different from what we would have when going to the shopping mall or to a restaurant to meet people. Business connections should not be on our mind. Selling something to the church or to fellow church members shouldn’t be our motivation. Dressing to be noticed or driving the coolest car to impress probably shouldn’t be on our minds either.
Jesus doesn’t care about that junk; he wanted to go to the temple with his followers and disciples to have a good worship one last time before being killed. It is not surprising that he got angry as he entered his father’s house. Jesus couldn’t worship in a temple of corruption, so he cleansed it–turning the tables over and scattering the merchants away.
Much the same way, Jesus wants us to have pure hearts in church and in our dealings with friends and neighbors in community. Jesus came for all sins, including those of greed. Greed in scripture is described as a really dark sin that cuts deep into our hearts, and it is one of the things Jesus wants to clean from our hearts in order to set us on a different course.
*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in his selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the eighteenth post in this series.