On this Monday of Holy Week, we remember the story of Jesus clearing the commerce out of the Temple. The accounts vary (especially John), but they agree that Jesus was a pretty angry guy when he encountered what was happening in the Temple.
Here is Mark’s version of Holy Monday:
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. – Mark 11:12-19
If you’ve ever traveled outside the US, you’ve probably heard not to trust the money changers. You’ll often find them outside banks, offering you convenience and exchange rates that turn out to be absolutely horrible. During the week of Passover, Jewish people from all over the world flocked to Jerusalem. Their pockets were filled with all kinds of currencies. How helpful that there were moneychangers there (right in the Temple, for your convenience!) to relieve them of the money they had brought along!
Scholars have suggested that the folks who were selling doves and other sacrifice animals had also began adding a little corruption to their business practices by this time. Again, we have to remember that people were coming from far and wide to worship God at Passover. Many of them didn’t bring their own animals for sacrifice; they had to buy them there. Some of them didn’t have a lot of money left after their exchange with the money changers. A sales pitch might have sounded like this: “It’s okay if you can’t afford what you hoped. I can sell you an awesome, blemish-free dove. I have it in the back. And, hey! I’ll even sacrifice it for you so you don’t get your hands dirty. This is how we do things here in Jerusalem. It’s no problem!” Then the same guy sells the next person the same dove and service, ad nauseum, and who knows if any doves ever got sacrificed? But plenty of money was made.
Jesus walks into His Father’s house for a holy festival, and He finds that other pilgrims, people who have come from afar to participate in their religion, are being taking advantage of. He gets really angry. That stuff may happen outside the gates, but not here! I wonder about these people he threw out. Were these just bad guys? Or were they normal guys who started out with good intentions and slowly slipped into corrupt practices? I think it was the latter.
A church I served during my training hired a traveling Christian musician to come do a concert. We took a love offering for her, and when we stepped out of the concert, the Narthex had been not-so-magically transformed into a Christian junk shop. From WWJD bracelets to t-shirts to coffee mugs to magnets to blankets… if Jesus was on it, it was for sale! There was a general feeling that we had been had, and one members of PPR was so furious at the pastor for allowing this to happen that she shared it with me, his assistant. “Jesus would throw these moneychangers out of the Temple! This place has become a den of robbers!” I didn’t know what to say to her. In retrospect, it was grossly overdone, and you may remember that anytime we’ve had traveling folks who require (believe me, it’s a requirement) a booth to sell things, we put them away from the sanctuary. Mostly because it’s downright tacky and Gregg Johnson would be furious, but also because it feels like a violation of holy space.
So is this scripture just about the Temple or other holy spaces? How does it apply to today? If we want if we want to draw meaning for today from the events of the past, I think it’s important to note what Jesus did on his way to the Temple. He cursed a fig tree. Weird! But why did he curse it? Because it didn’t bear fruit. It was covered in leaves. It looked like it was fruitful, but it wasn’t. Kinda sounds like the temple and the people working in it, no?
Today is a good time to pause and think about how we do business, whatever business we are in. Are we honest students? Are there slippery slopes in front of us that could lead us to corruption? Have we already started sliding a little? Are we still living up to the good intentions we started with? Are we leafed out but not bearing fruit?
Or do our day to day interactions with people bear fruit? Do we conduct ourselves in ways that encourage our coworkers? Are we a good part of the team? Can the people around us during the day feel like we’re someone worth talking to when they have rough times? Are we a source of hope for the others who run into us?
Lord, on this second day of Holy Week, I pray that my daily life is pleasing to you, that my actions match my good intentions, that the road in front of me doesn’t turn into a slippery slope to greed or actions that would upset you. Help me be ethical. Help me be fruitful. Help me remember that the fruit my life bears is not just for me, but for those around me. Amen.