Money changing in the temple
More than once I have seen a person setting up a table in our church lobby for some sort of sale. They look a little self-conscious. "Money changers, huh?" is the usual question.
Most of us have had some kind of sale in the outer-courts of our congregation: a cookbook sale for the women’s group, bake sale for the new furnace, a hoagie sale for the youth group, tickets for the Confirmation banquet.
So was it this kind of thing that Jesus was so riled up about? Would Jesus overturn the bake sale table and drive out the women’s group with a whip of cords?
My immediate reaction is to tell the uncomfortable parishioner in the narthex, "No, of course not!" But really, the answer is "Maybe."
First off, what was Jesus’ issue with the money changers and animal sellers? Animal sacrifice was commanded in the Torah (Exodus 29:38-46). Jesus and his family would have participated in it as part of their faith life. Likewise, the money exchange was necessary because the offering to the temple had to be in a certain kind of coinage (Exodus 30:13-15).
The problem wasn’t necessarily the presence of money or things for sale in the narthex of the temple. (Great news for the bake sale, right?) But Jesus still obviously had a problem with what these things represented or he wouldn’t have made such a spectacle of them.
What was it then?
• Maybe it was that in selling things for worship, the poorest people were left out of participating in the temple.
• Maybe it was the fact that all the emphasis was placed on purchasing and exchanging instead of on God.
• Maybe the issue was that all the emphasis was on worship and sacrifice instead of on taking care of the poor and working for justice like the prophet Amos proclaims.
Our congregations are probably guilty of all of them at one time or another, even if we don’t sell anything in the lobby. The Gospel stories offer no absolute answer on the issue. So our table-setting parishioners will have to examine their own actions and ask "Would Jesus turn this over?"
• Why do you think Jesus was so mad at the sellers and money changers in the temple?
• What ministry in your congregation do you think Jesus would turn over? Why? Can you do anything about it?
June Wilkins is pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church an ELCA congregation in Columbus, Ohio. She graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in 2003. She lives with her husband, two birds and a dog.
You might also like to read:
Acts of God (without the drama)
We are beggars
Words of the prophets