Jesus was on fire. He was downright angry. His anger was directed at the commerce taking place in the Temple during what we call Holy Week. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem just shortly before this moment to great fanfare and excitement. But just moments later, he was weeping as he considered the hard hearts of that city’s inhabitants. He knew they had missed the point of his arrival. And now, he storms the Temple grounds with a whip and ferocious zeal, virtually decimating the currency exchanges and animal markets that had set up camp there.
In the first century, Jewish worship was oriented around the Temple in Jerusalem. It was the hub for prayer, sacrifice, and connection with God. The Jews traditionally saw the Temple as God’s house, meaning, in their minds, God actually resided within the confines of the Temple to some extent. The Temple was “holy ground”.
But, there was something those folks missed about the Temple. Access to God in the Temple was not intended only for Jews. There was a section of the grounds devoted solely to those of non-Jewish descent who desired to worship God. It was known as the Court of the Gentiles. From the very beginning of Temple-centric worship, God carved out a place for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, to connect with him at his Temple. Unfortunately, by the first century, God’s chosen people, the Jews, had forgotten or ignored God’s heart for non-Jews.
We know this because the exchanges and markets Jesus railed against were set up in the Court of the Gentiles. The exchanges were set up for Jews who had made pilgrimage to the Temple from other lands and brought with them foreign currency. The sales were to facilitate animal sacrifices by those same people as well as local Jews. And it is likely those moneychangers and animal salesmen were corrupt. But, aside from any corruption, the fact that they had set up shop in the only space in the Temple grounds which Gentiles could enter seems to be the real issue. As Jesus turned over tables, he proclaimed, “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,” according to the Gospel of Mark.
My guess is that the practice of selling animals for sacrifice and offering currency exchange likely started out from noble intentions. Like most good things, selfishness can get in the way and corrupt. And, sometimes we can be distracted by something seemingly good to the point in which it becomes more important than what is essential. I believe this is what happened to the Jews. And this “missing of the point” is was led them to become the object of Jesus’ righteous anger that day.
Perhaps the saddest part of the story for me is how they responded to his confrontation. Jesus spoke truth to them. He loved the people of Jerusalem enough to confront them with the truth of their egregious behavior. Repentance would have been the appropriate response. However, their hearts just got harder. And it is very likely that this event, Jesus’ confrontation of this offense to God, was a flashpoint moment in the transformation of attitudes toward Jesus that week.
I have compassion for those folks. Certainly, I hate that they were shutting non-Jews out of communion with God in order to conduct business. But, frankly, like them, I am a professional at missing the point. I too can get incredibly distracted by something which seems good, but is only diverting my attention from what matters most. More poignantly for me, I can relate to their hard-hearted response to Jesus. Honestly, I’ve responded in the same way.
Jesus loves you and me enough to point out where we are missing the point (or the mark). He longs for us to embrace his way, so we can experience real peace and a better life. When he tries to correct our courses, he does so from that longing, knowing the more our lives are aligned with the way he built them to be lived, the more we will experience such peace and life. The question for you and me, in this moment, is will we listen to him? Will we trust his heart for us and align ourselves with him? Peace and life await on the other side of that choice.