Third Sunday in Lent
The Revd. Tony Lane
I vividly remember just a few years ago turning on the TV one evening to watch the news. The cameras were recording a debate in the Italian parliament, which concerned one of the many scandals that surrounded the life style of President Berlusconi. As one might expect the MPs were becoming somewhat excited, even agitated, but that sort of thing probably happens world wide. What happened next however was certainly ‘not’ anticipated.
Suddenly, first one and then several of the opposition party clambered over the seats in front of them, and without any warning they started a ‘free-for-all’ brawl in the middle of this hallowed place, normally used for debate and serious discussion on government matters. Things were now totally out of control as police were called in to break up this fight.
I looked on in total disbelief as no doubt did thousands of other viewers.
Perhaps what Jesus did in the Temple in today’s Gospel reading, would have left those astonished on-lookers equally gob-smacked and shocked.
No illustration can really do justice to what Jesus did, but let’s try and better understand the event itself.
We have heard this story so many times before, it probably ceases to shock us, which is a shame.
This Temple was the very heart of Judaism, and not just any old Church on a street corner.
It was the centre of worship, music, politics and society.
It was also (sadly) the place where you would find many animals, both dead and alive. At the same time it was of course the place where Israel’s God was to be found, making it the ‘focal point’ of the nation.
It was here that this unknown prophet from Galilee came and literally turned everything upside down.
We must surely ask ourselves:
What was wrong with the Temple?
Why did Jesus react this way?
And what did his answer mean, when asked for a sign?
There is little doubt what John thinks, as he wants us to understand that what Jesus did in that Temple was more than just a hint at the ‘new’ meaning he gives to the Passover. Let’s not forget he has already referred to Jesus as the ‘Passover Lamb’.
This incident also makes it blatantly clear what Jesus’ feelings really are for the Temple itself.
He regards it as corrupt and under God’s judgement for being used as a market place.
Let us remind ourselves, how on more than one occasion, Jesus cautions us about the ‘sin’ of anger, yet here he is displaying a flaming temper!
So, what was it that made him so furious?
Most people in those days regarded God as some sort of ‘rich master’ who you had to keep sweet through the use of bribes, or you might prefer to call them ‘gifts’, usually in the form of animals or money, both of which were part of a corrupt racket.
One explanation for Jesus’ rage is that it shows us his humanity. In other words he can get angry just like the rest of us!
What I am saying is that Jesus’ rage arises principally from the total misuse of this holy place of worship.
These traders however were not gate-crashers. Far from it, they were an essential part of the daily life of the Temple. Animals and birds were needed for sacrifices, and money changers handled the currency for the sale of them.
This all sounds perfectly innocuous, but that’s where you are so wrong.
First of all these animals had to be perfect specimens in order be acceptable to God.
So, none of your lame old sheep, or perhaps a pigeon with a broken wing. Let’s face it the easiest way to control this was by insisting that all animals to be used for sacrifices had to be purchased from within the Temple, which would guarantee they were unblemished.
What could go wrong with that?
Well, those Temple money changers controlled the prices, and surprise, surprise, they charged about 15 time more than the going price in a normal market. If that wasn’t bad enough they were only allowed to be bought using Jewish sheckles, but under the Roman occupation the standard currency that people were paid in was the Roman denarii. That meant you had to use the money changers, who of course charged a prohibitive fee. Their excuse for not accepting the denarii was that all these coins bore an impression of the Emperors head, which was looked on as a ‘graven image’, and as such, forbidden by the Commandment against the worship of idols!
If all this wasn’t bad enough, it actually gets worse.
About two and a quarter million pilgrims would come to Jerusalem during Passover time, and guess what, they were all charged half a sheckle Temple tax, – which equated to nearly two days wages.
I am sure you have already guessed what I am about to say – that’s right – those wages were of course paid in denarii, which once again had to be converted!
Now you can start to understand why Jesus was so incensed, leading to him over-turning the money changers tables, and evicting the traders.
In reality it would have had the atmosphere of an abattoir, with the stench of death lingering in the air.
Temples around the world are places where people can come into contact with God, and experience his love. They are places to give thanks for all God provides, and to seek his forgiveness for wrong doings. They are places to hear his word, and receive his guidance.
The Temple in Jerusalem was indeed such a place, but it had been turned into somewhere that God could not be heard or experienced.
Sacrifice was, and is, an important part in the life of faith.
For example, we today are asked to sacrifice some of our prosperity by putting God first in our lives.
In Jesus’ time the Temple trading and money exchanging could have easily pleased God.
The problem was, greed got in the way, which changed everything.
No wonder Jesus reacted the way he did.
This all equated to just one thing only – the miss-use of money!
This begs the question – “Are we any different today?”
Just take a look at our money markets and banks, and it’s not too difficult to see how things end up as they did in that Temple:
Banks hold our money, but are constantly changing rates, usually to their advantage.
They lend us money, often at prohibitive rates.
They tempt us with plastic cards; the ease of internet banking; instant overdrafts; currency exchanges; insurance, and so on.
All of these useful services, that many of us use, of course are provided for a fee, which can easily be hiked up, without us being aware.
The big problem is that all of this, and more, is done for the banks to become more prosperous at our expense.
What probably started out as a good thing in that Temple, (through greed,) it became evil and corrupt.
I wonder what things we do today, that equally anger Jesus?
These sort of thoughts were probably on Paul’s mind when he wrote those words we just heard in his Letter to the Corinthians:
Paul is contrasting the ‘wisdom of the world,’ with the ‘wisdom of God.’
If we still have any doubts about how God wants us to live our lives, our OT reading makes it absolutely clear.
Sadly, many people are misled, seeing their faith based on a long list of do’s and don’ts, but this is not how God wishes us to live our lives, as it is the cross of Jesus that saves us.
When Jesus is challenged about what he is doing and asked for a sign to explain his actions, he makes the link between the destruction of the Temple, and his own death and resurrection.
He is after all the true temple.
Through Jesus, God is offering us his love, and in return he wants us to love him.
The ‘law’ of God is a sign of the ‘love’ of God, and it is meant for our good, no matter how restrictive it might appear at times.
So, let us pray for Christ to clear our hearts of all that is wrong, (as he cleared the Temple), and ask that he will guide us in God’s ways, as we journey on through Lent.