Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said. Luke 19:45-48 (New Living Translation)
As we enter Passion Week, I’ll be focusing on highlights from Jesus’s last week. Yesterday, I focused on mission based on Jesus’s coming to Jerusalem. Today, I’ll discuss Jesus’s speaking truth to power.
In Jesus’s time, people sold animals for sacrifice in the Temple, which could be a very profitable, yet shady enterprise. You see, if you had animals that people needed to sacrifice-especially during the Passover-you can set prices as high as you wanted. For the wealthy, this would be no problem since they would be able to afford animals or have their own. However, for the poor (which was the majority class in that time) this would produce a serious problem. Many devout poor that wish to offer sacrifices at the Temple would not be able to purchase an animal, thus preventing them from offering sacrifices-especially for sins. And without a sacrifice, many poor felt trapped in their sins and at a disadvantage in more ways than one. And something tells me that the Temple leaders and their cronies got some payola from this operation; as well as looking the other way.
When Jesus came on the scene, he was rightfully pissed off. First, these entrepreneurs were taking unfair advantage of God’s people. Second, such activity desecrated the sanctity of the Temple and degraded it to a common marketplace. As the scripture Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 stated, God intended His/Her house (the Temple) to be a house of prayer for all people (per Isaiah); a physical place where people can engage the Divine. However the above merchants degraded the Temple into a “den of thieves” (per Jeremiah)-robbing God’s people not just of money, but of their God-given right to worship and sacrifice, and their dignity as humans.
To add a final flourish of Divine justice, Jesus turned the Temple back into a place where God’s people can engage Him/Her through daily teachings. Jesus spoke God’s truth to financial power (the merchants), and religious power (by teaching in the Temple). Jesus’s act upended the Temple status quo. That’s why the elites wanted him dead-Jesus’s truth wrecked their game plan.
How many of us in the Household of Faith are willing to do the same-speak truth to power? Not just our leaders, but the laity as well? I am dismayed how many “fundagelical” Christians will protest Gay/Lesbian rights, Evolution in the classroom, and a woman’s right to choose (abortion). However, when it comes to protesting no-win wars, an assault on the working class, racism, sexism, and the disenfranchisement of many, these same loudmouths get awfully quiet. However, thank God, there are many Christians who take up causes for the 99%, Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender rights, racial and sexual equality, our working poor, and other issues that Jesus himself would have addressed.
As we are still in Lent, and prepare our hearts for Holy Week, let’s ponder Jesus’s actions and look at our own communities. Will we have the guts to do the same?