For Part 1 (Palm Sunday, go HERE)
Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem in the most audacious manner, much to the consternation of those in charge. He hasn’t done anything – yet, but his mere presence in the city worries the chief priests. Jerusalem is busy and tense enough at this time of year without the arrival of someone who thinks he’s the Messiah. The thing is, if he really is who he’s making himself out to be (that riding in on the back of a donkey, exactly like it said in Zechariah – oi vey!), then this could spell the end for the chief priests’ very nice life.
Reading (if you want to) Matthew 21: 12-17 or Mark 11: 15-19
As I mentioned yesterday, the Jesus we’ve constructed – the very nice chap with impeccable manners and nicely-styled wavy blond hair, is not the Jesus of the Bible. That he was (is!) a very nice man, is not in dispute. Even people who don’t have much time for Christianity will admit that they have a lot of time for Jesus. He was absolutely perfect, but we’ve ‘perfected’ him too much and taken away much that made him fully human, such as not drawing attention to the fact that he did, at times, get very angry.
Being angry is not a sin. You can’t look at issues of poverty, injustice, human traffiking and the desecration of the planet in pursuit of economic gain and not get angry. That’s the right kind of anger to have. Being angry because the BBC decided to show Cash in the Attic and not Bargain Hunt is just being petty and pointless.
Jesus goes to the Temple and it’s there that we see perhaps the most graphic outpouring of his anger. The Temple was constructed so that people could worship God. I discovered only last week from my friend Sally, something I didn’t know about worship at the Temple and it’s this: The Temple was not for the exclusive use of the Jews, it was for everyone; every tribe and every nation. It was just as much for the Gentiles (non-Jews) as it was for the Jewish people themselves. I’d missed it, but it’s there in Matthew 21: 13 and Isaiah 56:7 – it was to be a house of prayer for all nations.
It made me think of our own cathedrals, impressive buildings constructed for the glory of God. I’m sure every Dean and every Archbishop would be glad to have their cathedral thought of as being a house of prayer for all nations.
But we sometimes get a bit niggly when a cathedral asks for an admission charge. It would be wonderful if these places could be totally free; but I know, just from being the Administrator of a church that was founded in 1797 and the building constructed in 1822, that these things don’t run off fresh air. They need maintenance to keep them in good nick and that’s expensive. Scale up the maintenance bill to a 1000+ year old cathedral and we’re in nosebleed territory.
But that’s not what’s going on here. The Temple isn’t asking people for a donation towards its upkeep, what’s going on is exploitation; crowding out the Gentiles, swindling them and putting obstacles in the way of their worship.
The Temple court was crammed full of traders who were selling sacrificial animals at high prices. You couldn’t pay with your own money, you had to change it to Temple coins. The money changers, knowing that those from far away wouldn’t know the exchange rates, deceived people. Of course, people would want to buy sacrificial animals, but the Bible is very clear about honesty in weights, measures and financial transactions. Plus, they’ve filled the court with commerce, leaving no room for worship. That would be like filling Westminster Abbey with a massive gift shop and leaving the gift shop to be the bit that you worship in. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
Into the Court of the Gentiles comes Jesus and he knocks over the stalls of the money changers and those people selling sacrifical doves. There’s feathers and money all over the place (you can imagine the scene) and Jesus doesn’t mince his words here, he tells them exactly what’s wrong. This was supposed to be a house of prayer and they’ve turned it into a den of thieves. I think you can sense how very personal it is to him. This is his Father’s house – literally!
Of course, doing something like that in the Temple is bound to attract attention, and it does. The priest and teachers of the Law are not just out to silence him, they are out to kill him. But there’s a problem: Jesus is incredibly popular and people are hearing about God in a new and fresh way. How are they going to bring someone with that charisma and appeal down?
Their plan begin to take shape; but unbeknown to them, their plot to kill Jesus is part of something a whole lot bigger than they can ever imagine.