I don’t think Jesus cleanses the temple in this morning’s reading. It often goes by that name. But if cleaning is what he’s doing, it is in the full understanding that it will be dirty again the next day. What is cleaning, but wiping away the dirt, scrubbing the scum off of the tub or the grease off of a pan. We cleanse to remove the bacteria and destructive elements. For Jesus to cleanse the Temple in this act is to pin all of the blame on the money-changers and dove-sellers. It is to scapegoat middle management and think it is over.
A Den of Robbers (Day 35 of A Simple Lent) | Monday
When Jesus knocks over the tables in the Temple, we see a side of Jesus we aren’t used to seeing.
Some love it. It has an “about time!” quality.
Some would rather pretend he didn’t and leave it at that. This is a metaphorical moment of judgment, not an example for us.
What neither of these interpretations take into account is that Jesus was still teaching these disciples by setting an example for them. And this teaching may actually be consistent with the rest.
On their way to Jerusalem, near the end of their journey, Jesus is stopped by a pious young man and asked how he is to inherit eternal life.
Jesus asks the man if he keeps all the commandments. Of course! So Jesus suggests that there is one thing left to do: sell what he owns, give the money to the poor, and follow him.
The man, unsurprisingly runs away.
What might get missed in all of this is how Jesus names the ten commandments. He lists them quickly, but one of them he alters. He switches up “no coveting” to “you shall not defraud.” The change is subtle, but significant.
Coveting someone else’s stuff wasn’t just about the lust in your heart for your neighbor’s spouse or his sweet power tools. It was about a sort of stealing and claiming someone else’s as your own.
Jesus seems to put his finger on the scale as to say this commandment doesn’t go far enough. The problem isn’t wanting someone else’s stuff, it is cheating them out of it. We already have a ban on stealing, this is about scamming and swindling and putting people in debtors prisons and expecting good decisions on bad information.
Jesus doesn’t blame the money-changers for changing people’s money; Jesus is going after the whole system.
Blame the Den
So Jesus drives them out and blocks their way in a highly public protest. Then proceeds to teach them.
He was teaching and saying, ‘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.’
It is this line which causes many to think this is a story about worship vs. politics in our own world. Or it is about keeping money out of the church. Many sermons have been preached about the need to keep our churches as “a house of prayer for all”. There is a kernel of truth to this assessment. But it doesn’t fit with anything Jesus has actually taught up to this point.
The more important word is not prayer, but den. The den is the hideout, the cave, the secret gathering place of criminals.
Jesus’s criticism then is not to be weak in our convictions so as to be welcoming to all or to give safe space for the troublemaker in their midst. It is that the Temple has become the hideout for the exploiters. It isn’t the public money-changing out front that is the problem, it is the exploitation and sin going on in secret. Jesus doesn’t blame the money-changers, but the elders and the priests.
How are we serving to give cover for exploitation? In our communities and our country? In our buying habits and in our legislation?
How might Jesus invite us to turn over some tables so that some sunshine disinfectant can get it?
[For further reflection, read last year’s meditation for Monday of Holy Week!]
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to simply be present in prayer, giving this week to GOD.
[No worksheet this week!]