Our Gospel story this morning gives us high drama and passion in of all places the courtyard of the Temple during the feast of Passover. There might have been as many as two and a half million people, faithful Jews, journeying to Jerusalem. The Passover feast commemorates Israel's liberation from slavery in Egypt, the fundamental event in its history, a celebration lasting for eight days.
Jesus had been to the Temple when as a babe in arms he was presented and consecrated there, then at twelve years of age he sat with the teachers listening and questioning, but now he surveys the scene through the eyes of an adult. And, he is disgusted and angry, he is furious at what he sees.
Thousands and thousands of Jews had traveled great distances to observe the Passover feast and would not have been able to bring the appropriate sacrificial animal with them. So they needed to buy animals in order to participate in temple worship. The temple tax could not be paid in Roman coin, for they bore the image of the emperor. Therefore they needed to be exchanged into the local currency. This was a profitable time for the money changers as they took advantage of the travelers, charging exorbitant exchange fees.
The treasury of the Temple was one of the ancient world's great banking houses. And business was booming in this festival time. (kching!!) Jesus explodes into action as he strides into the crowded place. With a whip of cords he scatters people and animals, sheep and cattle stampede in all directions. Terrified people take cover wherever they could. Doves flutter about in panic. Money changers’ table are turned upside down and coins fly in all directions. Can you imagine the turmoil and chaos?
"Stop making my Father's house a marketplace," Jesus shouts. What is really going on here, what disturbs Jesus so deeply causing him to react with this intense anger?
Selling animals to those who have traveled to Jerusalem for the purpose of making their sacrifice at one of the most significant feasts of the year was a legitimate business, except for the fact that the fees had been inflated to an unreasonable level. It benefited the sellers and the Roman government, but poor folks couldn't pay the price. So they were not able to offer their sacrifice, which was an honorable and cherished practice. It prevented them from worshipping in the traditions of their ancestors. Because they couldn't afford the taxes they were prevented from keeping the Law, the Law which defined who they were as God's people.
The Temple system had developed into an abusive practice where most peasant people were not welcomed, since they couldn't afford to purchase even a small sacrificial dove. It's no wonder then that Jesus acted as he did. He is not dismissing the worship of the Temple. He is not attacking the spiritual traditions that have formed his whole life. He is attacking the greed and corruption within the ancient and glorious tradition. And Jesus says, "Stop!"
Think about that. What if people today could approach this altar only if they could afford to pay a sizable "worship tax"? That's utterly unimaginable.
Our economic system is only slowly recovering from the financial melt down of 2008. Greed and dishonest practices resulted in huge profits for many in the business world. Some progress has been made yet there is still much more to be accomplished. When courageous people speak the truth, change happens.
The business of Pay Day Loans has been growing rapidly; there is an office in Monte Square. Often advertised as a source for quick and easy cash, it soon becomes a trap making it difficult for borrowers to ever repay the loan. The fees may be as much as seventeen dollars or more per $100.00 borrowed, interest may be as high as 200% for a one year loan. The borrower often extends the loan because they are unable to repay the full amount, thus going deeper and deeper into debt. Payday lenders in many states are virtually unregulated. However, WA state does license and regulate lenders, offering some measure of protection for the consumer. These businesses are very profitable, having little concern for the hardships created to those struggling to meet their monthly obligations. We can support our legislators when we know they are taking action to protect consumers.
Consider what we know of Jesus mission and ministry. He came to bring light to the world, he came to minister to the least, the lost and the lonely, he came to serve, to love, to give voice to the powerless.
He had no intention to bring down the Temple, he wanted to change the Temple system so that all could come and participate fully in the worship of their community.
Jesus is the outsider to the power structure of the Temple. He challenges that authority which quite literally shakes its foundations. Jesus throws into chaos the working of the Temple system right in the midst of a major feast of the year so that neither sacrifices nor tithes could be offered that day.
Who was this "out of towner" who dared to ruin their celebration? To those confronting Jesus over the question of authority, his reply is puzzling. He claims to be able to raise up this temple in three days after its destruction. Obviously those present understood only the surface meaning of his words, for he was actually speaking of the temple of his body. There is a reality greater than the Temple and its spiritual tradition. This greater reality is embodied in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
Later Christians would teach that Jesus is truly the new Temple, the sign of God among us. Jesus envisions an order so far beyond ours that the two cannot stand in comparison. He wants to shift the reverence people felt for the temple where they worshipped to a different temple, his body.
Jesus now is the sign of God among us, God with us. Jesus makes God accessible and extends God's presence into all aspects of our lives. Jesus grants us authority to go out into the world to love and serve the Lord. AMEN