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. (read the whole passage)
“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
There is an irony when it comes money and determining the value of something. As soon as we try to sell something, we cheapen it. Sellers will ask, “How much can I make from selling this thing”. Buyers will say, “How little can I pay to obtain the thing I want”. And maybe that is why money can be such a touchy subject, maybe that is why when we as human beings talk about money we talk about it more seriously than anything else.
You can watch the nightly news and a story about war or disease or crime or death can be reported with great gravity and then followed by a lighter story about celebrity, or charity or human interest which is reported with a smile and a laugh. But watch the business news, and every story is treated seriously and like it is important.
All the seriousness almost seems like an attempt to mask the shame and guilt that money invariably brings into our lives. We know that we like money and that makes us greedy, and we know that greed is a shameful thing to be or to feel.
Did the money changers and animal sellers feel that shame when Jesus came barging into the temple?
In our churches today, we do not really know the situation that Jesus was walking into. Imagine if when you arrived at church this morning, you had to pay to park, and then pay again to get through the doors. And then once inside there were some police officers milling about, some county employees and some church council members selling things. In order to worship you would have to rent your hymn book, pay a ticket to sit in a pew, buy the water if you needed baptism, buy the bread and wine if you wanted communion.
And then if you wanted to give 100 dollars to the church, you had to pay 115 to change your money into church money.
This is what the temple in Jerusalem looked like. More like a busy shopping mall than a place of worship. Anyone who was poor had no chance of making it in. Those who had a little money had to save up for years, and the rich would come and go as they please.
The temple priests were skimming off the top all the purchases made. The Romans were taxing all the profits. And the people selling the doves, sheep and cows for sacrifice weren’t even jewish.
You could imagine why Jesus would be upset with what was going on in the temple. The whole point of the temple sacrifice system was to make God’s forgiveness more accessible. The job of the priests was to preside of sacrifices and show people a visible sign of God’s invisible promise of forgiveness. Yet, what had been designed to be accessible had become inaccessible. Worse yet, what was supposed to be a way of freely giving God to the people had become a way of selling God for an exorbitant rate.
Martin Luther had the same problem with the Roman Catholic Church, who was selling God’s forgiveness and early exit from purgatory in the form of indulgences.
Now, today as you came into church, you probably didn’t worry that you would have to buy your way in. We might feel like we can look back and say we have figured it out, we aren’t so foolish as to sell God.
Granted, there are still TV evangelists selling little green cloths and the promise of healing. But in a way this is more honest than what most North American Christians have been doing for a long time.
Jesus was upset with people for trying to make a profit off of God. To sell God’s love for price. To sell something that is priceless and more valuable than we could ever afford, for a few coins.
But like most things, North American Christianity has taken the marketplace of the church to a whole new level.
We aren’t so crass as to sell God. We have found a much more slick and devious way to make a profit off of God. Most churches today will preach that God’s love is free gift, but then they will go on to say that if you are good enough God’s love and blessing will make you rich. Forget trying to earn and pay for a little piece of God, instead let’s put God to work for us! All we have to do is pray hard enough, believe sincerely enough, act pious enough. And then God will bless you with health, wealth and happiness.
If Jesus were to come and over turn over our marketplaces he would have to come into our homes and work places, he wouldn’t tell us to “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace” instead he would say, “Stop making my father’s love a way to get rich!”.
So…does anyone know what the word “economy” means?
In modern terms, it is the resources and wealth of a country or region. But Jesus actually uses the root word for economy as he speaks today. “Stop making my Father’s house a market place”.
Oikos in Greek. House in english. The greek word of economy is oikonomos, which means to manage one’s household.
The economy is caring for the household and all that is within. The people, the resources and the wealth. Our economy is our household wealth. The word economy is related to other words we know.
Ecology, the care of the household of the earth, or the environment.
Eccumenism, which is relationships between Christians, Lutheran Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals etc… The care of the household of faith.
“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”.
Jesus is suggesting a different economy. Jesus is declaring a new way to manage God’s house. In our economies we buy and sell, we make money and lose money.
But in God’s house, everything is free. God’s forgiveness is freely given. And Jesus’ promise is for everyone. God’s new management system is on its way.
But the priest and temple authorities challenge Jesus’ declaration of a new economy. We challenge Jesus’ declaration of a new way to manage our households. We know that nothing is free, everything costs. We like knowing this because it gives us control, we know what we need to do to earn God’s love. We know that we have to be good, follow the ten commandments, pray hard enough, read the bible enough. As Lutherans we know that we need to attend worship once a year, take communion and give some amount of money to the church.
But Jesus doesn’t care what we know. Jesus is making it all free. Jesus is making it all priceless. And Jesus knows that this radical new system will only lead him to death, he is on his way to the cross. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days”.
The temple is God’s dwelling place, it is God’s house. And yet Jesus is speaking about himself, he is pointing to what we will do on Good Friday “Destroy this temple”. And he is promising what God’s response will be, “I will raise it up in three days”.
We dislike the idea of God being free so much that we will treat Jesus like a criminal, kill God in flesh, and destroy his temple, his house.
Yet, God’s new economy, where forgiveness, grace and love cannot be sold or bought is on the way. God’s new economy that responds to power and fear with weakness and intimacy is on the way. God’s new economy that encounters death with new life is on the way and is promised to us.
Today, Jesus tells us that everything we thought had value is worthless. Power, money, death.
And everything we thought that was of no value, weakness, poverty, life. These things are the new way God is going manage our economy, our households. God is giving away love, mercy and forgiveness for free. And that is turning our world upside down.