When I first read this text, it was easy to think of the money exchangers as gamblers, treating the temple kind of like a casino, profiting for their own gain. When we have that understanding it’s easy to see why Jesus was angry, turning over the tables.
But that isn’t actually the truth. These people in the temple weren’t gambling or doing this for their own gain. In fact, scholars have found little evidence to suggest that they made any profits or that the priests did either.
So why do it?
I learnt that in Jewish culture, all men over the age of 20 had to pay a tax to the temple, but inconveniently the tax had to be split between two different currencies. The people in the temple, the money changers, acted just like a currency exchange. Kind of like when you go to the post office and swap your pounds for dollars.
That made me question, why was Jesus so angry? If they weren’t doing anything explicitly wrong, why did He overturn the tables?
To answer this question, we need to look at the purpose of the temple. Yes, a tax needed to be paid. Yes, the money changers may have practically helped the worshippers to pay. But the temple was always supposed to be a place where people, all people, all nations, could worship freely. (‘I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies’ (Haggai 2:7).
The purpose of the temple is clear. It’s a Holy place filled with glory that all people, from all nations can access.
In this scripture we can see that some blind people and some lame people approach Jesus, and He healed them. It’s easy to brush over this. Jesus has done lots of miracles by now, but let’s not miss out on the radical nature of this. Jewish teachers did not require the blind or the lame to come to the temple, and in some cases and traditions, they were actually excluded. (‘On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”’ (2 Samuel 5:8). The blind and the lame were the outcasts, preferred outside of the temple, but Jesus was radical. He brought them in, he healed them, he set them free. It’s just a foreshadowing of what’s to come.
It’s a similar story with the gentiles. As the Jews experienced privileges, the gentiles were becoming more and more outcast. They were not allowed beyond the outer court of the temple which was where the money exchanging happened. By allowing money exchanging to continue, the Gentiles would not have a space to worship. Again, he saw the outcasts, and was on their team.
It’s not to say that money exchanging within the temple was explicitly wrong, but it didn’t fit. Imagine a post office travel exchange within the Westminster Abbey. It doesn’t fit. It’s distracting. It’s not in line with the purpose of why the Abbey exists. It’s the same with the temple.
In this scripture, we don’t see Jesus get irritated and angry over a simple floor plan issue over where the money exchangers will go. We see him being ruthless with purpose, and standing on the team of the outcasts. He chooses the ones who are always picked last.
How often do we see the focus being taken off of what Easter time is really about?
How often do we take the focus ourselves?
I know I do. Just this weekend I was trying to organise some plans for Easter Sunday, a day where we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, a day where we remember and be thankful for the salvation we have. And what was I focused on? My own planning and how I can’t be 2 places at once.
I spoke to my mum earlier today and she questioned me around why we give eggs at Easter and why we give presents at Christmas. We resolved that although eggs are nice to give and presents are definitely nice to receive, they simply can’t be the purpose.
When the purpose is not focused, we end up changing course, so much so that we can end up with a list of people to buy for and a bank account that doesn’t support our ever growing shopping list. We can end up stressing out, in debt, focus lost.
My mum doesn’t know Jesus. She isn’t a Christian yet, but she notices that surely there must be a bigger purpose to the things we do because it’s practical, or because it’s tradition. If she can recognise it, and she doesn’t know Jesus, so should we.
It was tradition for people to pay taxes to enter the temple, for blind and lame people to be excluded and for Gentiles to stay on the outer circle.
Jesus’ righteous anger in this passage says no to old traditions that exclude and prevent a relationship with the Father, and yes to a new truth, where everyone is accepted, everyone is in the in circle, and His purpose for the temple, and His church is priority.
We should be the ones ruthlessly pursuing His purpose this Easter and always.
Let’s not get wrapped up in old tradition, where people are excluded from the temple on Easter Sunday or any other day.
I’ll leave you with one question. How can you be ruthless in pursuit of Jesus this Easter?