If Mark was right, then it happened the day after His rather triumphal Palm Sunday entry when Jesus returned to Jerusalem after staying the night at Bethany. For upon entering the Temple courts—perhaps the most crowded spot in the whole complex– the gospel writers tell us that Jesus created quite a stir by overturning the tables of the moneychangers and those selling lambs and doves. And at least to some observers that might have seemed like a bit of an overreaction.
After all, the Law of Moses spelled out that when pilgrims came for a festival like Passover that they shouldn’t show up empty-handed to the Temple but ought to be ready with something to sacrifice there. And who wanted to travel all the way to Jerusalem with livestock or even a dove in their hands? Particularly when everyone knew that the Temple priests primarily approved for sacrifices only the animals which they also rather conveniently sold.
Likewise, it just made sense that those Sadducees who ran the Temple required that offerings be made in one currency only, namely, Tyrian coins. (Never mind that such coins were stamped with pagan images—they had the highest content of pure silver and oddly enough, the money changers were also usually a part of those same aristocratic families.)
All in all, thus, it was quite a successful enterprise for the Sadducees, most of whom were not legitimate priests at all but had bought their position from the Romans. And it seemed logical to locate these “services” (with a “convenience fee,” of course) right next to the Royal Stoa or covered porch on the south side of Herod’s Temple where the main entrance was located.
Jesus, however, seemed singularly offended by the whole idea, not only knocking all the booths and tables over, but also exclaiming in a loud and impassioned voice, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2.16) Because more than just reacting to the blatant price gouging going on, Jesus was telling them that they had missed the whole point of what it means to love God. In fact, the incident with the moneychangers was not so much about only cleansing the Temple, I think, as it was about reinterpreting the whole sacrificial system as a means of truly worshiping God and loving Him with all of our hearts without keeping Him an arm’s length away.
Instead, what Jesus rather vividly demonstrated that day is that true worship has nothing to do with either the convenience of the worshipers (ouch) or those who job it was to count up the money at the end of the day and keep the whole thing going (double ouch). And in a season of decided inconvenience for most of us–when we still can’t physically go to church at all–that’s a comforting word. For perhaps this Holy Week can actually be about something else, namely, rearranging our priorities to simply have a heart for God.
Oh sure, it was dramatic. But what else could Jesus do when those who should have cared the most for the Temple instead took advantage of their position to make a profit for themselves? He even quoted from Jeremiah 7.11 about the den of robbers, which goes on to say, by the way, that God declares, “I have been watching.” And just in case you didn’t know it, He still is.
He’s not even six feet away.
(Log on each day of this Holy Week for a special word about Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, and why it matters.)