When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
Mark 11:15-18 NLT
On Monday Jesus begins to get himself in trouble. In truth it was alway going to lead here. His way was in direct opposition to the powers of the day. He stood opposed to those who wanted to protect what they already had or were looking to get a little more. Eventually it was going to be a showdown.
On Monday Jesus is in the Temple. Saying difficult words and overturning tables. I’ve heard many interpretations of this Scripture throughout my life, but the one that appeals to me most is the one that says that this wasn’t about money. Not really. Jesus wasn’t angry that people were selling doves for worshippers to sacrifice or exchanging currency so that people from away could buy a dove to sacrifice in worship. Jesus was angry because those selling the doves and those changing the money were making it difficult (sometimes impossible) for those who had honestly come to worship God.
People could bring their own dove (or other animal) to sacrifice in worship at the Temple. But it had to be inspected by the priests to be sure it was without blemish, as the Scriptures commanded. There is evidence that the priests were in cahoots with the dove sellers. And they would reject the animals not bought on the premises, saying that they were blemished and unfit for worship. Then, if the person wished to continue with their act of worship, they would have to buy a dove on the premises. And if they didn’t have the proper currency, they would have to get it exchanged. The exchange rates would be inflated (convenience tax, we’d call it today) as would the cost of the doves (like buying candy at the movie theatre or a slice of pizza at a sporting event). The priests would get kickbacks from the dove sellers and the money exchangers. It was a rather nasty business.
On top of that, many of the worshippers would not be able to afford the cost of the dove or the rates of exchange for their money, and they would turn away, unable to worship God this year (for Jews, the only true place of worship was in the Temple in Jerusalem, and many made the pilgrimage once a year…or once every few years if that was what they could afford).
In this interpretation, Jesus isn’t angry that people are making money in a worship place, he isn’t even angry at the dishonest practices of the proprietors and priests. No, what truly makes him mad is the thought of anyone standing in the way of a person who truly wishes to worship, to draw closer to God, to give thanks for the good God has granted and to ask pardon for the bad they have done.
Yes. That sounds like something that would make the Jesus I know, very angry indeed. At the end of the week, he will lay down his life in order to bridge the gap between God and humanity. As one of my favorite Christian singers puts it, He will tear the veil so we could sit with Him in person. He will lay down his life – in agony and in disgrace – to secure our right to come directly to God. Of course the thought of anyone standing in the way of someone wanting to get to God is going to make him angry.
For the priests, and the dove sellers, and the money exchangers, though…for them, Jesus’ act of defiance and righteous anger represents a loss of income. A loss of power. A loss of wealth.
So, they begin to plot his death. Because those who hold money in that high esteem will always try to elimate any threat to their prosperity.
This Holy Week, may you know how important it was to Jesus that you be able to worship in freedom, without impediment. May you know that Jesus longs for you to draw closer to God. May you find comfort in a house of prayer for all nations. And may you worship in spirit and in truth.
The unrestored Temple Steps in Jerusalem.
Standing on the Temple steps, one of my favorite places in Jerusalem. Jesus would have walked up these very steps before overturning the tables.
Mom and I on the Temple steps.
Mom and Dad on the Temple steps.