'The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.'
Jesus has begun his journey to the Cross. Throughout this week, leading to his death, the pace and drama grows, with Jesus powerfully unsettling and challenging the people he encounters. As we journey with Jesus we may well find that we too are challenged and unsettled by what he reveals to us.
Throughout the Old Testament God is concerned with the poor, oppressed and abused. His desire is for justice; justice is the re-balance of power, of all people being treated with respect and dignity because they are created in the image of God. Justice is about those who have been treated with injustice being treated fairly, being cared for and loved. Jesus approaches the Temple and sees the injustice and oppression that the powerful are inflicting upon the powerless.
The Temple was the place where people could go to worship God. It was seen as the place where heaven and earth met, the place where God had promised to dwell and be present. Yet the temple was being corrupted. The temple authorities decreed that no Roman coins could be used for to pay for sacrifices because they bore the image of Caesar, so they had to be exchanged for currency that could be used. However, in the process of exchange the ordinary people were being scammed, losing money that went to the priests in power. It was a religious scam, one of many that happened in the temple grounds, and it angered Jesus.
On top of this was how the Gentiles (non-Jews) were being mistreated and denied true access into the temple to worship God. The 'Court of the Gentiles' was the only place non-Jews could go in the temple area, and it is most likely that this was the area where all the dishonest trading was taking place. Rather than the temple being a 'house of prayer for all nations' it had become a 'den' or safe house for robbers.
Exploitation, injustice and corruption dressed up in religious tradition.
People being denied the presence and gift of God.
Jesus comes in righteous anger and justice to challenge and change that.
His cleansing of the temple was powerfully prophetic, revealing God's heart and the future of things to come. For in Jesus God has come to dwell in all his fullness; 'The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us.' Here, in Jesus Christ, is full access to God. No longer are you denied the promise and presence of God by the powerful, but you can come, just as you are, meet with the person of Jesus and encounter the living God. This was a spiritual, social and religious revolution. Jesus was calling Israel to examine herself and to once again take up its true vocation and mission given to her by God. Jesus' actions show that God had been repeatedly rejected by His people. In Jesus, God has come to the temple only to be rejected. Yet God has come to renew and restore all things and invites all people through all time to encounter Him in the person of Jesus.
Jesus challenges us to examine our lives once again and consider if we have denied ourselves and others true worship of God for the sake of power or wealth or manipulation. Does he call us to be cleansed and renewed by His Spirit that we might refocus once again and fix our eyes on God?
The call to authentic Christian discipleship is call to challenge the corruption and injustice of our day. To expose all abuse, exploitation, manipulation and oppression, and then challenge it and join with God's Spirit in bringing change. It is a call to join with God in bring hope and justice to the world in which we live, seeking to be used by God in the communities where we live.
It is a call to reveal to others through our own lives that God is present in Jesus and desires all people to know Him. It is a call to share the Gospel with all people. It is a call to help those who believe they have been denied access to God that, in Christ, God desires to meet with them just as they are, just where they are, today.
As we begin this journey with Jesus to the Cross we are challenged yet comforted by this revolutionary and radical God.