3rd Sunday of Lent 3-4-18
Readings: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19: 8-11, 1 Corthinthians 1:22-25; John 2: 13-25
It’s Not the Money!
I strongly suspect that Jesus’ attitude about money and the accumulation of wealth was very different from the attitudes prevalent in America today. Remember that Jesus was an itinerary preacher in the 1st Century in Judea – or as we know it, Israel. We know that he owned no property and seemly had nothing more than the clothes on his back. In Matthew 8:20, he says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” He said that in the context of the price of discipleship. In other words, he had made a choice. He could have decided to be a craftsman. Current scholars think that Joseph was not just a crude carpenter, but a skilled artisan who might have worked on some of the larger Roman buildings of the day. It would have been a good paying job, a respected occupation with steady work. Jesus was never shy to tell us that discipleship is a choice, and there were social and economic costs associated with discipleship.
But while Jesus did not choose to pursue money, he was fully aware of the cost of what money can do to us. He carefully seemed to avoid having any money at all. Remember when, in Matthew 17: 24-27, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter about Jesus paying the tax. Jesus tells Peter to catch a fish, and Peter finds a coin that will be enough to pay the tax for himself and Jesus. I doubt that Jesus’ clothing had pockets at all; he had no “pocket change.”
When Jesus watched the people make their contributions in the temple, Mark 12: 41-44, he remarked, “…this poor widow has put in (two pennies), more than all those who have given (greater amounts) to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” He was not impressed with the amount of money which was given, but rather the sacrifice. Jesus knew that 2 cents is more than $1,000 when it is all you have.
And finally, in Matthew 22: 20-22, the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking if it was lawful to pay the Roman census tax. His reply was, ““Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” You may say that we owe everything to God, or that that we should pay our taxes, but however you choose to interpret this brilliantly vague response, you know that Jesus was not awake nights worried about money or taxes. Money did not make his top 10 list of important things in life.
With all this being said, I find it hard to focus on the way the money changers in the temple exchanged currency. No doubt they were charging unfair rates. The historical writings from the 1st century record the political and financial maneuvering and bribes that went into being given permission to have one of those merchant stalls in the temple. That part of the story would be understandable, at least to us, despite being rather despicable. Still, it was the same as bank fees and exchange rates for currency in much of our world. So what was it that set Jesus off?
What was the gross sin of the money changers and the sellers of sheep, oxen and doves? Well, where were they doing business? For that you need to know something about the temple. The Outer Court of the Temple in Jerusalem allowed anyone to come in and pray and learn about God. Only here could Jews converse with non-Jews and foreigners without being ritually unclean. Only here could faithful Jews tell others about their God, their faith, and beliefs. It was a place where what we call “evangelism” could take place. Instead, the noise and the ruckus of the animals and the shameless profiteering prevented any serious conversation or meditation.
The merchants were not only stealing money from people by their excessive rates, but more importantly, they were stealing the knowledge of God from people who had come to learn. They were preventing people from coming to know God, and from praying. Jesus told us in Luke 19: 10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” So the sin of the merchants was to purposely prevent The Mission of God’s son. The sin was, for a little money, to come between God and his children. In Matthew 18:6, we find this description of the sin: “If anyone causes one of …those who believe in me…to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” No wonder Jesus was so angry.
We have a much larger “Court” than the Outer Court of the Temple where we can pray, and meditate, and talk about God with those who are seeking the divine. We have much of our nation where it is permissible to talk with people who want to learn, to have their questions answered. It is a wonderful privilege. It is, of course, also a responsibility. How do we present God? Such conversations have recently felt more polarized, more political. God, of course, is not political. God is a God of love for the poor, a defender of children and those who are unable to provide for themselves. God is the healer of the broken-hearted, those who have been used and abused. God is not a God of religion, but a God of faith and trust and truth. Are we ready to have these conversations in a tender way, with the attitude of a servant of God?
Many thanks to BJ on The River Walk blog for this perspective.