Growing up in church I was always taught the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers from a couple of perspectives. One, that He experienced and expressed righteous anger-as distinct from most of our own selfish human anger; and two, that doing business in God’s sanctuary was a no-no.
As I got older and began studying Scripture for myself without all the cues provided in Sunday School booklets for how I should be interpreting the verses, I came to a little different understanding of this very familiar passage.
The Temple was constructed with several “courts” in successive distance from the Holy of Holies where the Presence of the Lord dwelt above the Mercy Seat.
The outermost court was the Court of the Gentiles where even “unclean” outsiders were invited to draw a bit closer to the God of Israel, to hear about the great Jehovah and hopefully, have their eyes opened to truth.
But by Jesus’ day, the Jews had turned this court-this place of invitation for seekers-into a place of convenience for themselves when coming to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and Temple tax as required by the Law.
This enraged Jesus!
Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:
My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.
Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.
Matthew 21:13-14 MSG
Now, most of our churches are scrupulous about not commercializing the space set aside for worship.
But we are far less careful about not constructing barriers to the outcast, limping, broken, stranger and alien.
We are just like the Jews-we want our worship space to be convenient and comfortable for US-for those who have already heard the Gospel-and do not mind if our convenience and comfort make it hard for those who do not know Jesus to even get inside the doors.
There are no money-changers in our lobbies but we have our own version of crowding out seekers.
We have our own customs that we don’t want to change even if they have nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. We have our favorite Bible translations even if they use such archaic language most people can’t understand it anymore. We insist that our services remain tethered to times and days and forms that don’t suit modern schedules or sensibilities.
Jesus was angry because the people entrusted to invite others to know and embrace the Truth were making it impossible for them to get inside.
I’m asking myself this Holy Week, do I do the same?
Am I building walls or opening doors?
Am I more concerned with my own comfort and convenience than another’s access to the Lord I claim to serve?