Summary: Lent 3 (B) Christ made an unfair trade, exchanging His life for our sin and guilt. Therefore, we live not in what we deserve but in His free grace and mercy.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“An unfair trade”
“It’s not fair!” It’s a cry heard throughout schools, home, and playgrounds across the country. “He got more.” “Hers has flowers.” And stated or not: "Mine doesn’t." That’s what makes it not fair. Amazingly, no one had to teach them about what is fair and what is not. At least not in this setting. Yes, we have to teach about sharing. Yet somehow that is different. Probably because sharing is about the other person, and “fairness” is about me.
Fairness turns up in the school lunch room. "Let’s trade lunch." "Okay, but only if it’s a fair trade." Fairness and trading are not confined to the schoolyard. Adults are just as concerned about fairness and unfairness, although we are more likely to grumble about it, rather than shout, “It’s not fair.”
Trading -- outright trading -- does not happen in our modern lives much. Although we still trade cars. And when we do, we appreciate a fair trade, or at least one that feels like it. Trading in the market has been reduced to buying and selling. Some of us occasionally will still refers to it as trading. “I trade at this store.” Or, “I do all my trading with him.” Although trading has disappeared, the concept of fairness persists: what is a fair price and what is not. One can even buy products now that are certified “fair trade,” meaning that the farmer got a fair price for producing the crop.
In our lesson today, Jesus comes to the temple, and finds a whole lot of trading going on: the money-changers, and those selling sheep and oxen and pigeons. These were not in the Temple proper, in the temple building itself. They are in the temple courtyards, in the area surrounding the temple. Jesus is offended by them, makes a whip, overturns their tables, and chases them out. He said, “You have made My Father’s house, a house of trade.” So we ask ourselves, what were they doing there, and why did this anger Jesus?
These people were there to provide a service for the Jewish worshipers, a necessary service. The money changers changed Roman coins into temple coin. Roman coins had an image of Caesar on them. This was a graven image – idolatry – prohibited by the first commandment. The people had to pay money to the temple, - one skekel - the temple tax. But to bring such a coin into the temple would be improper. So the temple had its own coins, and you exchanged regular money for temple money, and then went to the inner court and put your temple money into the offering box. So the money changers existed to provide a good and needed service.
The same was true of the people with the animals. Oxen, sheep, and pigeons were required animals for sacrifices. It was good to bring your own animal for the sacrifice, but many had to travel a long distance to get to Jerusalem. And bringing the animals a long way was not easy. So local people sold animals to those who needed them. They provided a good and needed service at the temple for their fellow Jews.
If these were good and needed services, then why was Jesus angry, and why did He throw them out? What started out good was no longer good. Instead exchanging one Roman shekel for one temple shekel, the money changers had a fee. And not necessarily a little fee. The people who sold animals charged a premium price. Furthermore, the priests who inspected the animals for sacrifice would find an excuse to reject the animals people brought with them. So you had to buy an animal from an “approved vendor,” at an exorbitant price, and which may not have actually been as fine as the one you brought from home. It certainly did not mean as much as the one you brought, that you had birthed, and weaned, and fed and raised.
What had started out good, had become bad. The exchangers and the sellers were no longer providing a service, they were cheating the people. The problem was not profit, but profiteering. Rather than a fair price for a quality product, it was an unfair trade. They had traded their position of service, albeit paid, for a position of business. They traded religion for racketeering.
And it was not their trade only. Because each Jew had to make sacrifices, and because you had to use the moneychangers and merchants to pay your temple tax and make your offering, these merchants, and the priests who backed them, unfairly traded for all their fellow Jews, who were forced into trading with them. They had unfairly traded God’s covenant with His people for their trade in religion. Instead of trading up, they had traded down. An unfair trade indeed.