Inviting the Light: “When Jesus Tossed the Temple—Was it Useful at All?”
By the Rev. Carole Wageman
In the back of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 845), there is a great section called “An Outline of the Faith” This section outlines in easily understood Q&A format the basic faith tenets of the Episcopal Church. They actually make great conversation starters. For instance, some of the questions about the Ten Commadments (p 847) are: “What are the Ten Commandments?” “What do we learn from these commandments?” “What is our duty to God?” “What is our duty to our neighbors?” “What is the purpose of the Ten Commandments?” But the question I really love is this: “Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?” Try tossing that one around a confirmation group sometime!
Since we do not fully obey the Ten Commandments, are they useful at all?
Each one of these commandments offers a way of turning toward God’s values and serves as a sort of mirror reflecting back to us what God’s dream for humanity might be. It is part of the Torah that Jesus would have studied and part of what shaped him and his own sense of justice I suspect it contributed to his righteous rage when he “tossed the Temple” that is described in each of the Gospels. John 2:14-17 has a particularly vivid account with Jesus hurling out the money changers, scattering piles of coins that went splattering, clattering and clinking over the stone floor while people frantically tried to scoop them up; throwing things here and there; feathers flying as doves and pigeons escaped in the chaos, sheep and goats milling in fright against their holding pens. Yelling and shouting, pushing and shoving, panic and shock. People stunned by this person who appears to go berserk on the Temple grounds. Maybe the disciples stood a little ways off wondering what they should do next besides feeling a little embarrassed.
Not quite the picture of a gentle compassionate shepherd gathering children at his side who was captivating crowds with his storytelling and parables, is it? JESUS WAS ANGRY … as he well should have been. Jesus was addressing what he saw as abuse of God’s house and God’s people. Now, the abuse was not that there were money changers or sellers of sacrificial animals. Those roles were actually necessary in Temple life where pilgrims had to use special Temple coins and specific animals for their rituals. Money changers would change unclean foreign coin into Temple coin and animal sellers were authorized dealers of unblemished animals that could be used for various required sacrifices. Both money changers and animal dealers were a necessary part of Temple worship. They were even allowed by law to make a small profit for their troubles.
The abuse came when animals were sold for 200% more than they could be purchased for outside the Temple area and when exorbitant exchange rates for Temple coins took advantage of pilgrims who had come to worship. It was a system of corruption and greed that went unchecked because no one stepped up to stop the unjust practices that took advantage of the people who were seeking God. This is what stirred Christ’s anger.
Can you imagine what power in our world would be unleashed if each of us plunged into justice issues with the same kind of zeal that Jesus did when he was consumed with his passion for God’s word and the protection of God’s people?
Can you imagine what power in our world would be unleashed if each of us plunged into justice issues with the same kind of zeal that Jesus did when he was consumed with his passion for God’s word and the protection of God’s people? It is a pretty powerful image to think of ourselves as speaking truth to power with such overwhelming conviction by doing something outrageous and unheard of, like teenagers “tossing the proverbial tables” as they refused to accept that that the “new normal” in our nation’s schools should be under the watchful eye of armed guards so someone with an assault weapon or any kind of gun cannot gain access to their location. Teenagers have to pass more rigorous training and tests to get a driver’s license in our country than they do to buy a weapon of mass destruction like the AR-15. And I really need to point out that AR-15’s are now being referred to as “modern sporting rifles.” Really? Do I really think that the United States Marines sent my son into a war in Iraq on two dangerous deployments with a “modern sporting rifle.” Really? Give me a break.
How and when did it happen that guns became our nation’s golden calf? That idol around which the Israelites danced because they thought it was what they needed to solve their problems. The only thing they accomplished was to stay stuck in the mud rather than find their roots in something a bit more faithful.
In a daily devotional by the Rev. Martin B. Copenhaver, he writes about idols and suggests we ask ourselves four questions if we want to know what our idols are: Where is your ultimate loyalty? What do you consistently make time for? In what have you put your trust? Where can you be most deeply threatened?  That last one (Where can you be most deeply threatened?) is the most interesting question because that is what we protect out of fear. And sometimes the fears we try to protect take the place of God.
I can’t help but wonder what tables Jesus would overturn today. It would probably be more than dumping over some furniture and spilling some coins on the ground. It might well look like teenagers from Parkland, FL venting their grief and fury at being made pawns in a larger issue that adults are reluctant to deal with. It might look like “Occupy” movements that attempt to draw attention to the revelation of things that were not meant to see the light of day. It might look like a stunning quickening of weariness at being treated like a sexual object leading many to shout out: “Me Too!” not just out of solidarity but out of actual experience. It might also look like the persistent striving for racial honesty because no matter how long we think we have been at it, we are still nowhere close to God’s dream on that one.
It makes me wonder what the sacrificial animals and overpriced temple coins are right in front of me that I don’t even see from the vantage point of my own complacency and white privilege. What truth to power would Christ speak today and how comfortable would we be with his righteous anger?
You just never know what might happen if we take those Ten Commandments somewhat seriously because that first question raised still haunts: “Since we do not fully obey them [the Ten Commandments], are they useful at all?”
Copyright © 2018 Carole A. Wageman. All rights reserved. www.carolewageman.com
NOTE: Similar stories from Scripture are explored more fully in my newly released book: “The Light Shines Through: Our Stories Are God’s Story” by Church Publishing, Inc. Ordering available now at Hopkins Bookshop (www.hopkinsbookshopattrinity.com), Church Publishing (www.churchpublishing.org/lightshinesthrough) or Amazon.com.
Photo credit: http://freebibleimages.org/photos/cleansing-temple/