Summary: 3rd Sunday in Lent, Series B. Preached 3/15/2009 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa
Our Gospel reading for this morning is one that tends to catch a lot of people off guard. When you think of Jesus, you don’t usually think of Him as someone who gets angry, who resorts to violent behavior. We think of him as a tender, compassionate, easy going person who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Yet, our reading for today at first glance seems a bit out of character. What are we to make of what happened that day in the temple? Why did Jesus do what He did? What was the purpose of it? In our time together this morning, we’re going to find out what led Jesus to do what He did, and what that means for you and me.
It’s nearly Passover time in Jerusalem. That means that any Jew who could would be coming into town to celebrate. Jesus and His disciples are among the pilgrims who make the journey to Jerusalem to celebrate this major Jewish festival. As part of the Passover, these Jews were required to make sacrifices of animals. Now if you traveled from a long distance, odds are you didn’t bring an animal to sacrifice, you saved your money, and you’d buy the right animal for the sacrifice once you arrived at Jerusalem.
So if you’re one who thinks with a business type mind, you can see where this might lead. Hmm….if these Jews are coming from out of town, and they need to make sacrifices, and they don’t bring animals with them, they need to buy them somewhere, so I know….let’s set up a place on the temple grounds themselves, and let’s just make it convenient by selling our animals to these people. We could make a fortune, and we’d be doing them a favor! I’m sure no one will mind. We’re meeting a “felt need”, and besides, it’s for a good cause in the end. So right there in the temple courts, you have people selling oxen, sheep, and pigeons to people who needed them as a sacrifice. Great location if you’re looking to make some money.
And if that’s not ridiculous enough, it gets even better (or worse, depending on how you look at things.) Remember, people are coming into Jerusalem from all sorts of places. And not everyone uses the same currency. In fact, within the temple, they had their own currency, so even the locals may not have had the right kind of currency on them. And since you’re doing business in the temple, your money isn’t any good here, you need to use temple currency to buy your stuff here. Well, guess what, you’re in luck, set up right here in the temple are, you guessed it, money changers, who will be more than happy to convert your currency into temple currency, for a fee, of course. I don’t know about you, but it sure sounds to me like there’s a LOT of money to be made at the temple each day, especially during Passover time.
So what is it that makes Jesus so upset that he drives out the people selling animals and overturns the money changers’ tables? This isn’t the Jesus we’re accustomed to seeing. Not only that, but it seems like these people are providing a much needed service here. What’s so wrong with it?
The key isn’t so much what they’re doing, but where they are doing this stuff that makes Jesus upset. The temple, you may recall, is the place where God is present with His people, his earthly dwelling if you will. If you want to draw near to the presence of God, you have to come to the temple. The focus of what goes on in that temple is supposed to be on God and what He has done for His people, and his ongoing presence with them in their midst in that temple.
In fact, it’s supposed to be for that reason that the Jews are coming into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Passover is supposed to be a time for the Jews to remember how God had delivered them out of bondage in Egypt, made His covenant with them, and led them into the promised land. The focus was to be on God, and His mighty acts to deliver His people. It wasn’t supposed to be on the individual, or making money, it was to be on God’s presence with His people to save them, and their ultimate deliverance God would provide through the promised Messiah.
But right here, in the temple courts, the focus isn’t there. It has nothing to do with what God has done for His people. His house has become a place for making money, a place of buying and selling. A place to get rich. The temple courts are supposed to be a place where Gentiles could pray, where they could be in the presence of God Himself. To give you an idea of what’s going on, try picturing sitting here in the sanctuary during this service, and over by the organ, we have one person selling some hogs, over in the alcove, you have someone selling horses, and right in front of the pulpit, we have someone auctioning off some cattle, and back by the elevator, you have a banker set up to exchange your American money into OSLC Currency, or an ATM machine so you can access your bank account, with a nice little $5 user fee attached on to your transaction. While it sounds ridiculous, that’s essentially what’s going on in our Gospel reading in the temple. I can guarantee you, there’s no way anyone is able to focus on God’s presence with His people in that place with all this stuff going on!