A loan shark is an unlikely tenant for a church sanctuary, but Jesus found their ancient equivalent in the Temple. The money changers were predatory lenders who exchanged Roman coins bearing the idolatrous image of the Emperor for coins that were acceptable offerings in the Temple. And they made a significant profit. Animals brought by poor Jewish peasants to be sacrificed as offerings to God were declared unfit, so they had to be sold for more expensive animals already approved as unblemished by the priests. The ability to worship God was being sold, and the poor were being cheated. No wonder Jesus waded into the fray with a whip!
We usually assume that modern Christianity bears little similarity to this scene. Few, if any, churches take such a marketplace approach to worship and ministry. It is worth asking ourselves, though, whether we have adopted more subtle barriers to worshiping God. Do we consider what Jesus might fervently react to if he visited us one Sunday morning? Have we become so sure that our way of worshiping is the right way that we dismiss all other paths? Do our congregations have formal or informal structures in place to ensure that some people will never be “full” members? Do we feel that salvation should somehow be for sale?
Jesus’ actions in cleansing the Temple did not make him popular. He was questioning the status quo and advocating for the poor and the outcasts. What does his example say about Christians and our social and ethical responsibilities?
What do we need to do to make sure that our sanctuaries—and our lives—are places of prayer?
Living and loving God, teach us how to worship you in spirit and truth. Amen.