Written by Norman Shanks
He told those who were selling the doves,
‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
In the other three Gospels this striking event – the ‘cleansing’ of the temple at Jerusalem – occurs immediately after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the start of the week that leads inexorably to his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. But in St John’s Gospel it comes at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It is very unlikely that there were two such separate incidents – so disruptive to all who witnessed or learned of them. By locating the event here the Gospel-writer is intending to highlight the transformative nature of the Gospel message that Jesus embodied – making a difference, through miracle-working (the turning of water to wine at the Cana wedding-feast), through life-changing impact on individuals (the conversation with Nicodemus), and, sandwiched between, the challenge here to the dominant social order and values, in driving from the temple the money-changers and traders who sold animals to worshippers for ritual sacrifice.
What concerned Jesus was not so much the desecration of the temple by turning it into a market-place, as the dishonest and exploitative practice of the traders. His prophetic action challenged the status quo, exposed the flagrant injustice in what was happening, affirmed that this was contrary to the vision and values of God’s kingdom, pointed towards a better, fairer way of doing things.
In our own times too, the prevailing priorities and values are akilter. The corona pandemic has revealed even more sharply, for example, the gap between those who are poor and those who are well-off, the scandal of the increasing incidence of poverty, the underfunding of public services, and the inadequacy and limitations of the welfare benefits system. And the approach of the international conference on the environment, to be held in Glasgow later this year, reminds us also of the urgency of the climate crisis – the desecration of our planet, the pollution of air and sea, the threat to biodiversity by the extinction of species, problems arising from dependence on fossil-fuels, deforestation, and so much more.
This passage and text speak to us too this Lent – a time for self-examination and reappraisal of priorities: how do we in our own time and place respond to the challenge?
Your item – a coin
For almost a year now many of us have hardly used coins or notes: contactless cards seem so much more convenient; and, with the lockdown and shop closures, online buying has increased substantially. But the feel and look of a coin reminds us of the significance of money in our lives. And money, wealth and possessions figure prominently in the Bible, not least in what we are told of Jesus’ life and teachings.
We need money to survive – for food, clothing, and shelter. Money is value neutral, but consistently we are reminded of its potential dangers – the illusion that the more we have the happier we’ll be; the moral damage caused by a preoccupation with acquisition and consumption; and the call thus to be generous, in response to the generosity and grace of God. Our society has become dominated by the insidiously creeping values of the market-place. Never has there been a greater need for people with a sense of communal responsibility to stand up and speak out on such issues as – tax justice (the need for high earners to pay more and for a cap on top earners’ pay to reduce the vast differentials within businesses); the need for increased public expenditure on health, welfare and services provided by local authorities; a change of mind-set so that the payment of taxes is seen as a privilege, a contribution to the common good rather than a penalty and something to be avoided if possible. Church-related organisations such as Church Action on Poverty and Christian Aid, through their campaigning, practical actions and communication of information, provide excellent opportunities for us to get involved and keep well informed.
we seek forgiveness for our complicity
and collusion in the social structures
and systems whereby people in our own country
and elsewhere are suffering
through poverty and deprivation.
In your grace and with the support of one another,
may we be people of compassion and justice,
generosity and integrity,
faithful to the vision and values of your kingdom
embodied in the life and love of Jesus Christ.
Questions for further reflection
- What other passages can you think of where Jesus speaks of the challenges of dealing with money and wealth?
- In the light of this incident (the ‘cleansing’ of the temple), what do you make of cathedrals and churches charging an admission fee to tourists and visitors and having a shop in their building?
- What is the most important insight you gain from this passage? What scope might there be for changing your own spending patterns and priorities?
For previous parts of our Journey through Lent go to: https://wellingtonchurch.co.uk/category/lent/Lent2021/