“Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables” – John 2:15
More reminiscent of an Old Testament picture, early on we encounter a Jesus who is furious at what he sees in the temple. If there are bits people could cut out of the Bible, this would be one of them. We want our ‘Jesus Holy child, Jesus meek and mild’. But if Jesus is God, then we must expect him to exhibit the same characteristics as his Father and the Bible is not short of reference to God’s wrath. Whether we want to hear about it or not is another question. This week, as we celebrate Easter, the entire story is first about the turning away of God’s wrath because of his love for us. We are deluded if we think the wrath of God is not there, and we make God out to be a liar.
A few weeks ago, as I sat with a lawyer, we were discussing the notion that justice is out of reach of ordinary people. Those with the money and power win, and it is very hard to compete against them, especially if you are poor and powerless. That is why there is so much reference to true worship of God being about helping the poor, the widow and the fatherless. Missionaries over the centuries have gone from the richest to the poorest areas to provide the hope of the Gospel along with practical relief. The poor, the defenseless occupy a very special place in the heart of Christ and he spent much of his earthly life ministering to them.
Never is the misuse of power more abhorrent than in the religion of God though. The Jewish temple system had become a source of enormous wealth for the priesthood, and a trap for the poor. Jewish law was to all intents, sharia law in Palestine, and the priesthood forced everyone to comply. Regular tithes and offerings, ensured that money circulated through the temple system at great pace, and was siphoned off for the 71 priests who controlled the Sanhedrin.
A typical Jew would be forced to exchange their daily dollars into ‘temple currency’ at rates that would make most modern day exchanges appear quite lax, and then further, be forced into buying the relevant offering at exhorbitant amounts. A pair of doves were for the poor, but could still cost a weeks wages, which when combined with Roman oppression and taxation made for misery in the lives of most. No wonder God was sick to the stomach with what he saw.Centuries later, as archaeologists uncovered swathes of early Palestine, they found dwellings of the Priests, and were astounded at the contrasting luxury they found compared to the average person’s home.
Religion has always, and will always be business; it is still so today in much of the world and sadly, especially in the church. Most recently in Spain, when youth unemployment was close to 50% and many could barely afford to eat, the Catholic church was criticised for having lavish buildings made of gold and silver and a costly priesthood.
Jesus reacted strongly, as he saw people’s view of his Father shaped by such circumstance. God becomes unattainable, miserly and a shuckster under such a religious system, a God occupied with ripping people off. Jesus came to show people who God really is, in character and approach, not only by living in total obedience, but through the display of God’s true character to mankind. Jesus loved to be with the poor and marginalised, and they seemed to embrace him so much.
As we go on the streets ministering to any that would listen, many are astounded that we take the time and compassion to simply listen and pray with people. Many are grateful for simple prayer, even if they don’t really believe. We, the body of Christ ,and especially the church must examine ourselves to ensure we are not a barrier to others finding God, either by our behaviour or our inflexible attitudes. We are to reflect Christ’s character to a hurting world, to reveal to the world a God who will one day judge the world, but who also offers a total pardon to any who would turn to him.
We must do this while there is still time.