When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ [LUKE 19:45]
Having read these verses many times in the past. I imagined a scene (probably based on some movie I’d seen) with Jesus upending tables and scattering animals and causing no small amount of mayhem in what was a well-oiled economic machine. Like many who read this account, I figured he was upset by them doing business within the Temple precinct rather than praying. And maybe that had something to do with it, but I now see the real issues were to do with exclusion, injustice and prejudice.
Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 “for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” and Jeremiah 7:11 “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?”
The context of Jeremiah’s prophecy was a decadent and disgraceful Israel that dared to trample the Temple of God with no reverence in their hearts. No fear of God. They treated God with disdain. They indulged in all manner of corruption and injustice and yet thought they could enter the Temple at will. Their shallow acts of worship were not to please God, but to appease their conscience and hedge their bets.
Isaiah on the other hand cries out that the Temple is to be a house of prayer not only for Jews but for all people. Although God chose Abraham, and through him Israel as the means to bring Christ to the world, God has always loved the whole world and sought to woo humanity back to himself. The exclusivity of the Hebrews and their disdain for the lost of this world ran counter to the heartbeat of God.
Jesus encountered that very same spirit in the Temple that day. An exclusive spirit that ruled people out rather than welcomed them in. They cluttered the Court of the Gentiles with their currency exchange and excluded the kind of people Jesus had spent his time ministering to. People who did not have the means to meet the rigid standards imposed by the religious leaders for Temple entry.
Their prejudice was based on social, economic and racial grounds. Sadly most Jews of that time would never have seen things in that light. They would never have believed themselves to be prejudiced. They would simply have accepted the way things were as being normal.
Whilst we have no Temple, I wonder how much of our church life and practice is in effect a barrier to our ‘Gentile’ population? What social, economic and racial prejudice do we have lurking in our hearts that we are largely oblivious to? If Jesus was to take up a whip today, what animals would he drive out of our shared life and faith? What tables would he overturn? How are we cluttering the entry points of faith with unreasonable expectations and hidden prejudice that effectively turn people away at the door? I shudder to think.
Lord open our eyes to see what you see!