45 Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘And My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a robbers’ den.”
47 And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, 48 and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.
Recall that this is the prelude to a Passover holiday. The city would be filled with pilgrims seeking to celebrate the holiday in the city where the Temple resided. The pilgrims would be required to have an unblemished lamb early in the holiday week. Travelers who did not wish to make a long journey with one in tow, would seek to purchase one near or in Jerusalem.
The Temple had these animals on hand, ready to sell to worshippers. John’s account describes sheep, oxen, and pigeons. Supply and demand would dictate that the mark up on these animals would probably be above and beyond a reasonable profit. Think about food prices at an airport vs. food prices near your house. You’re a captive market at the airport with limited options. So it was that these worshippers who probably weren’t farmers or shepherds themselves would find themselves with a pocket full of denarii and limited options when it came to purchasing the necessary animal.
Worse still, they had to change their currency from denarii to shekels. This was a requirement because the priests considered the Roman currency as having idolatrous images of Caesar or depictions of their pantheon on them. There was also a profit motive there as well. Once again think back to our airport example. Where do you think you’d get a better exchange rate? At the airport or somewhere several miles distant? So would be pilgrims and worshippers of God would pay exorbitant prices to change their currency and then to buy their animal sacrifice.
The priests and the Temple was getting rich off of peoples’ desire to worship.
Just as badly, they were preventing an entire sub-set of worshippers from being able to worship. The priests had set up these shops (or allowed the vendors to set up) in the section of the Temple reserved for what they considered righteous Gentiles to come and worship. These were Gentiles who had been circumcised and converted to Judaism. They would be here in the city this week as well. Converts who had made the pilgrimage to the Temple of God would enter in through the gates and be presented with a loud, boisterous bazaar full of the sounds of animals, bartering, clicking coins, and people engaged in conversation.
Could you imagine the first impression on a new convert? The disappointment. The feeling of being a second class follower of God?
Could you imagine going to a church today and being told you need to sit outside of the auditorium in a crowded section where they were selling coffee, food, books, music filled with running and screaming children and people milling about talking loudly on their cell phones? What would be your thoughts of that place?
That was the image of God that the priests were giving off to the people and to the Gentiles. God was in this for the money. God didn’t care about them.
You can start to see why God might get a bit upset about that. Why the Lord would fashion a whip and drive these merchants and vendors out of the Temple.
Are we like that? Do we care what sort of image of God we display to others? What would others think of God based on our own conduct or on the conduct of our churches? What sort of God do people think we worship based on how Christians act? What’s our reaction to that? Do we try to defend ourselves? Do we attack? Do we shroud ourselves with a martyr’s cloak? Do we try to understand what we look like from outside the church? And would we care?
Do I care about the image of God I present to my kids? To my wife? To my neighbors? To the checker at the store? To the people on the freeway or the train?
Let us each examine ourselves and consider what sort of God we tell others that we worship. Do we think God would be happy about the image of Him that we show the rest of humanity?
Maybe it’s time to take stock and clean our own house and consider who God is and who we’ve been telling people that God is and reconcile the two.