On Holy Monday, we typically remember Jesus entering the Temple complex in Jerusalem and driving out the money changers.
Mark’s Gospel captures it this way:
15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
19 That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.Mark 11:15-19, NLT
We typically read and preach this text in a very familiar way. It goes something like this: “The moneychangers were charging an excessive exchange rate and were swindling people in the name of God.” This is our justification for Jesus’ display of righteous anger. And I believe that is certainly a part of what is at play in the temple incident.
You see, the moneychangers and merchants in the temple performed a necessary function. For people traveling from great distances to offer sacrifice in the temple, it likely would not have been feasible to carry a sacrificial animal during travel. Enter those selling sacrificial animals in the temple. Those from outside of Jerusalem could have the convenience of buying an acceptable temple animal, for a price (some scholars estimate a 300-500% markup over the fair value of the animal). Oh, and one more thing. Those from outside of Jerusalem likely carried the currency of the realm, meaning it bore the image of Caesar. No, this would not be acceptable for payment or offering in the Temple. Enter the moneychangers, they would gladly exchange the pagan-stamped currency for temple shekels…again, for a price. These necessary functions of convenience eventually became grounds for great corruption as the fees increased to levels that smacked of robbery.
So, yes, Jesus is filled with anger over the corruption he sees on display and people being robbed of their money in the name of God. However, on our recently Holy Land pilgrimage, I was reminded of a another level that was likely present for Our Lord.
As our group passed through the Mughrabi Gate onto the Temple Mount, we were walking near al-Aqsa Mosque, which is just on the other side of the teaching steps and former main entrance to the temple complex. I was explaining to those near me that we were roughly standing where the moneychangers and merchants would have been set up when Jesus cleared the Temple. I motioned up toward the Dome of the Rock and explained that the Temple itself and the Holy of Holies would have been. One of the men in our group said, “I’m not sure I even want to walk up there, knowing that the Temple was there, it feels too holy.”
That’s when I started thinking, we were standing in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place those who were “unclean” or not jewish were allowed to be. In fact, there were signs posted as one would pass from the Court of the Gentiles further into the Temple courts threatening death on anyone who was not properly allowed to pass.
This outer court was not merely to separate those who were not jewish, it was also an invitation. It was an invitation for those outside the faith, those who were unclean or foreigners, to hear the message of God. It was in the Court of the Gentiles that the teachers would roam about and teach, Jesus would have taught here too.
In the place that existed for those who weren’t formally jewish (at least not yet) but wanted to worship God or learn more about Him, in the place that was to be an entrance into the faith, in the place intended for the outsiders to be led toward relationship with God…in that place the moneychangers and merchants set up their den of thieves.
Do you understand Jesus’ anger? Jesus stood in the outer courts with the outsiders: women, the unclean, gentiles, the sick, non-believers. His proximity to those on the margins fueled his passion and the zeal that consumed him. This was the place where they were supposed to get their first exposure to what God and His people were all about…and this…this is what they got instead? Crowded out by swindlers and thieves instead of being led into worship.
And I wonder on this Holy Monday, what do we have cluttering the outer courts of our lives that might be a stumbling block for others to come to know Jesus? Is it our pride, arrogance, anger…some other hangup or addiction? Where have we chosen comfort and position over against standing with those on the margins…standing where Jesus stands?
I wonder on this Holy Monday, what do we have cluttering the outer courts of our churches that might be a barrier, keeping others from coming to follow Jesus, too? Where have we focused on EVERYTHING but discipleship and worship? Where have we failed to see “those people”? Where have we gotten into bed with politics and ideologies that the Church has no business copulating with?
The choice is simple. Where will we stand on this Holy Monday? Will we keep looking out only for our own interests and gain personally and in the Church? Or will we stand with Jesus, consumed with zeal for those on the outside?
As I sit praying late this evening on Holy Monday, I’m asking Jesus to do what may very well be the most uncomfortable thing: Help me to stand with those on the outside. And, painful as it may be, turn over tables in my heart. Turn over tables in your church.