For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:8 (ESV)
And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.
Mark 11:15-19 (ESV)
Gentle Jesus…yes, but not always. Emotions are not inherently good or evil. What we do in response to our emotions is what matters. Jesus got angry. Jesus acted upon His anger, which was justified. People had turned the temple, which was supposed to be a holy place of prayer, into a place to rip people off.
The money changers and other vendors had taken legitimate business and turned it into price gouging and taking advantage of people who traveled to the temple over long distances. They engaged in a similar philosophy that lies behind the truth that a Bud Light that costs $1.50 at Kroger costs $12 at the football stadium or hockey arena.
Most of us can live without a $12 beer. It’s there if we really want it, and it is a rip off to pay that much, but the people coming to the temple had no other place to exchange their money for temple currency. Most people coming to the temple also could not bring live animals for sacrifice over long distances, so they had to buy animals on site. The money changers and other vendors had a captive audience at the temple for needs rather than for wants or conveniences, which makes that sort of price gouging a form of extortion.
Some people have interpreted Jesus’ actions toward the money changers and vendors to mean that one should never sell anything at church. To this day many churches will not conduct fund raisers inside the church building because of this example from the life of Jesus, but the act of selling things in the temple isn’t what made Jesus angry.
The money changers and temple vendors were not wrong to be exchanging “secular” money for temple currency for the offering, nor was it out of bounds that they were selling live animals for the ritual sacrifices. Both the exchange of “secular” money for temple currency and the purchase of animals for sacrifice were required for those who were observing the Mosaic Law and keeping the Passover. The sin of the money changers and temple vendors was that they were making exorbitant profits on those transactions and taking advantage of their neighbors. The money changers and temple vendors were ripping people off and lining their pockets with the proceeds in clear violation of the Mosaic Law which states that the people of Israel were not supposed to loan to each other with interest or exact a profit off of each other.
Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. – Leviticus 25:36-37 (ESV)
See also: Ezekiel 18
The fact that the chief priests and the scribes were so unhappy with Jesus for his reaction to the vendors activities suggests that they may have been on the take as well.
Jesus was bad for business.
Which brings us back to the question: “Which god were the chief priests and the scribes actually serving?” It wasn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Jesus Himself taught:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)
The sin that the chief priests, the scribes, the money changers, and the vendors in the temple all shared is the worship of a god (money) that isn’t God. We are tempted in that direction as well.
The love of money is the most attractive false god (other than ourselves) that people fall prey to. While it is true that we need money to buy the things we need to survive, it is also true that God is the maker and provider of all things. God is the one who provides us with the means to earn what we need to survive, as well as to serve our neighbors (vocation.) We cannot put our trust in our abilities, in money or in anything else other than in Jesus.
From Luther’s Small Catechism:
The First Commandment:
You shall have no other gods.
What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
No one puts God first in all things. We are not capable of obeying the Law. We all get obsessed with having enough (or not having enough) money at times. Money in and of itself, like anger, is not a bad thing. But do we love money more than God and others? Do we get angry without having a good cause and an appropriate release for our anger?
Jesus took the penalty for all the times we violate the law. We don’t deserve His pardon. We can’t earn His pardon. Jesus took the penalty of death for us because He loves us. Jesus was angry at the money changers and the temple vendors because they were turning a holy place that was supposed to be reserved for prayer to God and worship and turned it into a place to rip people off.
How maddening it must have been for Jesus to watch people ripping each other off for the love of money and worshiping the acquisition of wealth when He was right there in front of them- the Creator and Source of all.
The priests and scribes put their love of money above the love and worship of God. Most of us would be guilty of the same sin against the First Commandment.
Yet God turned the priests’ and scribes’ intents- as well as our intents- for evil to our good. The people who plotted the death of Jesus did not know that His blood would be spilled for the forgiveness of their sins. They looked right at God but didn’t know Him. They rejected the stone that God had made to be the cornerstone. The reproach of the reprehensible fell on God in human flesh alone.
Save by the power of the Holy Spirit, no one can come to faith in Jesus.
Lord, we thank You for Jesus, and we thank You for the gift of faith that we cannot earn and do not deserve. Help us to always remember Your death on the cross to save us from our sins. Comfort us and give us confidence that in our Baptism we have died in Christ and are made Yours forever.
We pray that we would trust in Your provision- that we would have enough for ourselves and some to share with others- neither too little so we would be tempted to steal, nor too much, lest we worship the thing (money) rather than the Creator and Giver of all.
We pray these things in the holy Name of Jesus.