Written by Brian Johnson, Pastor of Haymarket Church in Haymarket, VA
Today’s entry is kind of cheating a little bit. Because today we aren’t talking about a Psalm that shows up in the Gospels – instead, we are talking about two Old Testament references. But, there’s a good reason. Today is the Monday of Holy Week, and so, today, we are talking about what happened on the Monday of Holy Week, when Jesus entered into the Temple, threw a holy tantrum, and drove merchants out of the temple with a whip.
The story is kinda intense. Jesus, just a day after he was greeted (and hailed as king) by the crowds on Palm Sunday, comes to the temple – the holiest site in ancient Israelite religion – and gets really angry. The temple court is full of people who are doing a necessary religious job. In order for folks who came to the temple to worship, they had to trade in their Roman coins (which were considered unholy) for Jewish coins (which were considered less problematic). And, if they wanted to offer a sacrifice (an important part of what happened at the temple) they had to purchase an animal to be used as a sacrifice. The merchants in the temple were making those things possible – exchanging currency, selling animals for use in worship. And, for some reason, Jesus gets mad at them.
Some people have suggested that the reason Jesus gets mad is because these merchants were charging exorbitant rates – basically, these merchants were price gouging, taking advantage of people who just wanted to worship God, exploiting the spiritual desires of people (many of whom were financially struggling). And, that’s possible – it’s an explanation that makes sense – but the Bible never actually says that. The Bible doesn’t tell us WHY Jesus drives people out of the Temple – it just says that he does it. Jesus doesn’t always give us easy answers – sometimes he just shows up, turns our world upside down, and moves on. And we are left to figure out why he did it and what it means for us.
Anyway, back to these Old Testament references – when Jesus drives the merchants out of the temple, he says “My father’s house is to be a house of prayer for all peoples, but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” When Jesus says that, he is referencing two biblical prophets – Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Isaiah reference (“My father’s house is to be a house of prayer for all peoples”) comes from a part of Isaiah that is written as a word of hope. Isaiah 56 promises a future in which God will put all things right, and all people will be welcome among God’s people. It’s a promise of a future in which God sets a table that has room for everyone. Isaiah 56 is given to God’s people as a word of hope to sustain us – and to teach us to trust that God is not done with this world yet.
The reference to Jeremiah 7, on the other hand, is a word of judgment. In Jeremiah 7, the prophet is challenging those who practice false religion, who use their religious and political power to exploit the poor and ignore the suffering.
And what Jesus does in this moment – as he’s throwing his holy tantrum in the temple – is put these two ideas – judgment and hope – together. And this is a really important aspect of what happens during Holy Week. During Holy Week, we tell a story of darkness and despair – of Jesus being betrayed, arrested, tortured, and put to death. On the cross, we hear God speaking a word of judgment against the world – showing us just how faithless we are. Because, even when God shows up in the flesh, we refuse to accept God. God enters into our world to save us, and we respond by putting God to death. On the cross, we discover who we really are: we are sinners, we prefer evil over good, we are the people who put God to death.
But, that word of judgment isn’t all that there is to this story. Because the judgment also comes with a promise: God will do for us what we could not do for ourselves. When we reject God, God accepts us anyway. When we practice injustice, God’s justice nevertheless flows like a mighty river. When we respond to God’s presence with hatred, God nevertheless is Love itself. When our actions deserve judgment, God nevertheless gives us mercy and hope. When we put God to death, God responds by inviting us into eternal life.
In other words, judgment is not the end of our story. God does judge our acts of injustice and sin – just as Jesus drives the merchants out of the temple (whatever his reasons). But God also speaks a word of hope to us – promising that, in the end, God will triumph (in fact, God has already triumphed on the cross!) and resurrection will win. Our sin does not get the last word. God’s righteousness does.
God is the judge who gives us more than we deserve. God is the one who critiques our sin and nevertheless offers us a future with hope. God, in Jesus Christ, seeks to cleanse the temples of our hearts, driving out all that is less than it should be and replacing it with God’s way of love.
In the end, all people shall find their place in God’s home. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Even when we deserve judgment, that promise remains. That is our hope. Thanks be to God.
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