Some pictures from Bible stories have more staying power than others. As a young boy, I remember thinking, “OK, what’s all the fuss about?”
The cleansing of the temple of the merchants and moneychangers is recorded in all four of the canonical Gospels: Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, and Luke 19:45–48) and near the start in the Gospel of John (at John 2:13–16).
Historically, this was the way things were done 2000 years ago. Supply and demand was a principle of economics back then in Jewish culture just as it is now. The religious hierarchy established sacrifice as the only way to come before God and the temple merchants capitalized on the edict. Name your price was the rule of the day. The wealthy would buy an ox to sacrifice, the upper-middle class a lamb, the less prosperous a dove, and the destitute a sparrow. Widows and orphans sacrificed enormously of their personal holdings to buy a pair of sparrows for their sacrifice at the altar of God.
The Roman Catholic Church picked up on this practice using cash rather than animals as the price for penance and forgiveness. When Martin Luther came onto the scene the custom was challenged. Thank you Martin. Today, we accept forgiveness and grace as a free gift from an Almighty God who demands nothing in return other than our transformed lives.
But, how does this Bible story fit into our lives today as Christians, as followers of the man who overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple? Jesus upset the tables of commercialization in the temple, of the cozy relationship between religion and money. How does it apply today?
“What would Jesus do in our context? He might once again disrupt the temple—the unholy alliance between religion and empire.” cac.org
I think we can truthfully make the transition naming the unholy interaction of religion and government as today’s temple moneychangers. Separation of church and state is not just about a feared, theoretical bogeyman awaiting in our temples of worship to create a theocracy such as Israel experienced during the times of Jesus. The threat to America’s separation of church and state is real and it is entirely possible considering today’s national politics. We are hanging on to a freedom guaranteed by our Constitution which must be vigilantly protected collectively by those of us who are believers and those of us who are not. Our government bedded down with our prostituted churches are not empowered by anyone’s God to impose a nationally sanctioned theology.
Father Richard Rohr goes on to say about Jesus today:
“I think he would teach the wrongness and futility of violence in human affairs. He would be passionate about compassion and justice as the primary virtues of a life centered in the God whom he knew. And of course, he would teach the importance of a deep centering in God. Richard Rohr @ cac.org
Jesus deeply understood justice because the society in which he lived was harshly unjust. The Judaism of his day snuggled cozily in the Roman bed of nationalism to create a society which severely oppressed the common man. Jesus, the human, was a revolutionary and a zealot in his short lifetime and paid the ultimate price on the cross. He, along with thousands like him, suffered the horrors of crucifixion because he stood up for justice for all mankind, all of God’s creation.
Am I also willing to suffer for what I believe to be right? Would I carry my cross to my personal Calvary? How about you? Scoffers beware. We are quickly entering the national scenario where a segment of Christians historically claiming to be the persecuted are becoming the persecutors.