They would have told you, I am certain, that when all was said and done they were simply good businessmen, providing a necessary community service at a reasonable price. For after all, the Law of Moses spelled out that when you came to the Temple for a festival like Passover that you ought to be ready with at least a small animal of your own to sacrifice as a part of the ancient ritual.
Only there was the rub. Because for most folks of the time, traveling all the way to Jerusalem with livestock or even a live dove was more than just a little cumbersome. And so, it was actually a matter of convenience, some would say, to be able to purchase such a Grade-A animal after you arrived in the Temple courts.
Likewise, it was understandable why you needed to pay for such animals–or even leave an offering at the altar–using only the high-content silver shekels from Tyre, never mind the idolatrous or pagan images that were stamped on many of them. For after all, it wasn’t appropriate for the Sadducees who ran the Temple to have to fiddle with fluctuating exchange rates or even deal with counterfeit coins worth far less than their supposed face value– why, that would be stealing from God, no less!
And so, a little like you might find in most international airports today, it was a blessing of sorts that right as you came into the Temple complex that you could not only get a take-out order on your animal sacrifice, but you could also change your funds on the spot, all for a simple service fee, of course.
In short, as the long-ago writer of a Seventies pop song once put it, I suspect that most of us might agree that “the buyers and the sellers were no different fellas than what I profess to be.” Oh, sure they might have skimmed a little profit off the top of their transactions, but business is business, right? And to put it into perspective, the moneychangers and merchants in the Temple were probably asking nowhere near what the scalpers at most major league sporting events do today.
So why did Jesus get all hot and bothered about it on that second day of Holy Week, a time that some have called simply “The Day of Authority?” Perhaps it was actually that in the end the whole Temple system missed the point of what it means to love God. Because when all is said and done, we simply can’t reduce our discipleship down to a dollar amount, no matter how much it might be. For anytime we may try to do so, we are inevitably tempted to think we can buy off God with a good tip.
Despite what it has long been called, thus, the incident with the moneychangers was not so much about cleansing the Temple at all, but about disqualifying the whole sacrificial system as a means of truly worshipping God and loving Him with all of our hearts. For on this day Jesus exercised His authority to declare what the real worship of God requires. And oddly enough, it seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with either the convenience of the worshipers or those whose job it was to count up the money at the end of the day.
All of which makes me wonder on this day: what in the world do you suppose that Jesus might have to say to you and me about the creeping commercialization of our own somewhat shallow convictions? And if He likewise showed up at most church worship services today, do you suppose He would ask for a worship guide or for a whip?
(Log on each day of this Holy Week for a special word about the Final Footsteps of Jesus.)