Daily Readings: Exodus 11-12, Psalm 22, Matthew 21
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Jesus was a passionate guy. Occasionally you hear people talk about Jesus you get the image of a much more serene, peaceful, laid back guy. It can be easy to focus purely on the moments of his ministry when he was sitting on the mountainside sharing nuggets of wisdom such as, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This warm and fuzzy Jesus is a pretty easy guy to get behind. In our western world there is a temptation to water down Jesus into nothing more than a wise teacher who has some good quotes that overlay nicely onto a peaceful picture of a lake and put onto Pinterest.
There is no doubt that the core of the message of Jesus on earth is, love God and love others. Sometimes that message was delivered peacefully seated on a hill over a miraculous meal of fished and loaves.
But on occasion, it was time to turn over some tables.
It is important to have some context surrounding this passage today. Jesus had not yet paid the price for our sins once and for all and the Jewish culture was still operating under old system of sacrifices to atone for their sins. In Leviticus we will read about different animals that people brought to sacrifice to God in order to atone for different types of sins. In Leviticus 12:8 we read, “But if they cannot afford a lamb, then they shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons…”
What was happening in the temple courts was merchants preying on the poor. Those folks who were too poor to have a lamb they could bring with them to sacrifice were being told they could not approach God to worship in the temple without a sacrifice and then being price gouged on doves. This place in the temple that was meant to be a place of prayer was being used to take advantage of the poor.
If you have been reading along with us in the Bible throughout Matthew you already know, Jesus is not a fan of people using their power to hurt the poor. We see throughout the gospel that the most passionate version of Jesus is when he is addressing those who would take advantage of the poor or those who are trying to puff themselves up as teachers of the law and making their position of religious leadership nothing more than a status symbol. When it comes to hypocrisy in leadership and hurting the poor, Jesus is ready to turn over some tables!
In the Christian church today there are so many church bodies that are getting this right. Their ministry is focused on serving the less fortunate and helping their congregation develop deeper levels of intimacy with God.
However, there are still lots of churches where this is not the case.
Over and over again throughout his time on earth, we see that Jesus has extreme compassion and patience with people who are simply lost and need to find their way to God. Jesus came to reach out with love to sinners who did not even realize they were living in sin. He was also always talking about serving the poor. If he was a politician on the campaign trail, those were he two central messages.
On the other hand, Jesus had very little patience for those who know God and are actively choosing to live a hypocritical life or for those who are in a position of power and choose to leverage that position to take advantage of the poor.
As missionaries in the marketplace, this is a huge opportunity for us to model our lives after Jesus. What would it look like today if Christians in the marketplace looked at companies and individuals that prey on the poor and were ready to turn over tables on their behalf? What would it look like if we, as a body of Christ, were more focused on this issue as opposed to some of the other sins that tend to monopolize the discussion in Christian circles today?
It is far easier to take a look at the lifestyle of folks who have not yet turned their lives over to Christ and condemn. Us verses them is a convenient belief system. It is simpler and emotionally easier. Jesus spent very little time doing that on earth, but greeted those people with love, and that love won many of them over.
When it came to taking advantage of the poor or supposed followers of God who said one thing and then did another…Jesus was walking in and flipping over tables.
I want faith like Jesus. I want extreme compassion for those lost sheep that are far from God and passionately pursue them for the kingdom. And when I see injustice towards society’s most vulnerable, I want the courage to flip over some tables.
Thought to ponder
If we look at the issues Jesus addressed on earth and the posture of his heart towards each, how closely in line with Jesus is our heart? How can we better advocate for those who need advocates against those who would do the opposite?
As always, thank you for reading! Your comments are a constant source of encouragement. If you think this post would be a help or encouragement to someone else, feel free to share it!
This is good, Aaron. What are examples of companies taking advantage of the poor? Not specific companies but just trends that you’ve seen. I agree with what you’re saying but I was having a hard time coming up with an example of what that looks like.
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I agree with you Eva. It is difficult to determine when certain people are taken advantage of. I think that is part of the problem. Also, does this principle imply that in the marketplace we should all serve the poor as part of our business model?
Another thought: how are we defining poor in our modern context? I struggle with that as well.
Thanks again, Aaron. My favorite words of the day: “it is time to turn over some tables.”
Nice commentary, as always.
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I agree it can be challenging. There are some industries that are quite clearly predatory towards the poor making money by ruining lives. A couple of examples of those would be:
Payday loan companies – They
are one of the best examples of an industry that exists by gouging low income families with over the top interest rates and putting these families into a downward spiral of debt they can barely climb out of. http://fortune.com/2016/04/20/payday-loans-expensive-cfpb/
Private prisons – With minimum occupancy requirement, private prisons quite literally make more money the more people are locked up by our judicial system and a large chunk of these are minor, non-violent drug offenses that rip families apart for the sake of profit. There is a great deal of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform and yet it doesn’t seem to happen because of money pumped into the system by the private prison lobby.
There are also lots of giant companies that pillage third world countries and leave extremely impoverished communities without the basic clean water needed to survive.
These are just a few examples.