What are your thoughts about a charity that is actually a front for bilking people out of their money? There is something here that angers us, isn’t there? More so, than when a for profit company that is caught cheating. Both are wrong, to be sure. But it feels different when people are giving money to help others only to be cheated than when someone is buying a product and finds themselves duped. So, lets say that you buy what is supposed to be a family sized pool for a hundred dollars only to find out that only one child, if he is small, can enjoy the cool water. Frustrating. You have just been had. Now, imagine that you gave a hundred dollars to a group that claims it is helping to raise funds for at risk children and find out that the only one who is being helped is the person who is now flying to Hawaii for vacation; and the only thing he or she is at risk of is receiving a sunburn. This is more than not getting the product you thought you were purchasing. This is more than you being cheated. The people you thought you were helping are not being helped. They are also being robbed. It’s a twofer.
Luke 19:45-46 is an abbreviated version of the story found in Mark 11:15-17. Matthew’s account is closer to Luke’s. It is not my intention to harmonize these accounts. Sometimes the gospel authors do have a different slant in their telling of the story. We do the same thing. We tell the same story to illustrate different thoughts. This has nothing to do with the truth of the account. Jesus cleansed the temple. Did Mark have a different message to convey? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Jesus has triumphantly entered the holy city. The approaching language has shifted to arrival language. The king has come, and as the coming king, it is his responsibility to set right the things that are wrong. And there is something wrong in the temple.
So, Jesus entered into the temple and began to cast out those who were selling. And this will indeed bring up the question of authority. Who has the right to drive anyone, much less those who have been approved by the high priest to be there, out of the temple? The king who comes in the name of the Lord, that’s who. But what about the high priest, the priests, the elders, the Sanhedrin? Do they have the authority to allow people to set up shop? Even if it is only in the court of the Gentiles? Luke doesn’t tell us what these sellers are selling, but from Mark’s account and historically, we can be confident it was the sellers of sacrificial animals. Mark also mentions moneychangers. These may be included in the term sellers. They are selling acceptable temple currency; currency that does not bear the image of Caesar or Herod or worse: such as the image of Dea Roma.
Jesus then quotes Isaiah 56:7, “And my house shall be a house of prayer.” Much has been made out of Luke leaving out “for all peoples.” Is Luke trying to avoid the prophetic aspect of the prophecy, reducing it to a legal matter? But often a rabbi would make a partial quote expecting his audience to know the rest. The Isaiah passage looks forward to an inclusive temple; a temple that welcomes foreigners and eunuchs. Luke may not mention that the story takes place in the court of Gentiles, but his readers would have known where the story must have taken place. So, there they were, in the court of Gentiles, hawking their bleating, squawking ready to be sacrificed animals. Can the Gentile really pray here? Can the sellers? And there may be a lesson here about taking care of business in place of prayer; being more concerned about making a buck than communicating with your God. Jesus also quotes from Jeremiah 7:11. In Jeremiah, the people thought they could be as horrible as they wanted and then traipse on into the temple as if everything were just fine thank you very much. The prophet cries out and accuses them of turning the temple into a den of robbers. We cheapen the house of God with our rebellious trampling over the heart of God. Though there may not be any documented proof, I believe that the temple leaders were robbing the people with unfair trade and selling practices.
There is something in us that chafes at the defiling of something that is holy; when people who claim godliness and turn around and use their position to cheat and harm others. We have all just had stories of such abuses jump into our awareness. This is nothing new. And we are the temple. Anytime you hurt or cheat others, you have turned the house of God into a den of robbers. You cannot trample the heart of God and think everything is just fine because you bear the name Christian. Bear the image of God.