John 12:12–16 (NRSV)
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
(Mt 21:1–11; Mk 11:1–11; Lk 19:28–40)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
Today we celebrate the announcement of the king! Jesus during the festival came into the city of David while people cheered and waved palms celebrating a new era of history. The restored kingdom of God!
Every year we celebrate this day because it is one of the greatest days of the year within our faith. I wonder if the power of this day has lost some of its splendor through the commonality. At first we cannot forget the significance of the proclamation.
The crowds went out to meet the parading disciples in the streets of Jerusalem. The palms were there for a very important reason, the palms were used to provide a roof over the heads of the travelers as they made temporary shelters as they made their pilgrimages to the festival. The amount of travelers in the city would have ranged between a 100,000 to a million people depending on who you read, but the reality is that the city was packed full. People were setting up shelters wherever they could, along the roadways and in the desolate places outside of town. People returning to the city of David to celebrate the Passover from the far eastern regions of the Persian empire, the western expanse of the Roman Empire, and even people from the heart of Ethiopia. Dispersed children of Israel as well as curious gentiles that feared and respected the God of Israel all traveling and camping around the great city of God. Tabernacles were built to protect these weary travelers from the elements as they sought to draw closer to God.
The significance of the palms runs even deeper because they are a symbol of victory in the ancient world. When ancient warriors would return home from battle the populous would wave palms in the air in celebration. This was done throughout the ancient world, a tradition among the Hebrews as well as the gentile nations. So we have camps of people lining the streets, as they saw the disciples approaching with Jesus they began dismantling their tents, their dwellings offering all that they had available to them to honor this traveling teacher that inspired them to dream about the emerging kingdom of God all around them.
As the people began to cheer and chant, Jesus found a young donkey and rode it into the throng. While they cheered, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus did not turn from this pronouncement but accepted it, embraced it, Jesus is the King of Israel. The imagery is strong within these words. As ancient kings and tribal leaders paraded into the villages they would wear their greatest ceremonial gear, freshly cleaned and shined, and mounted upon their finest horse. The horses would be tall and proud, their heads were held high and their feet beat into the ground in time as everyone cheered. Jesus also rode into the crowds upon a beast of burden, but there is a striking difference. Jesus did not ride on a tall and powerful warhorse breed but a donkey. This speaks volumes of the identity of the emerging kingdom of God that the crowds were hoping for. War and victory are not something one would find donkey involved in. When I was younger, there was a traveling show that would visit the communities around the area that would recruit people to engage in a game of basketball while riding on a donkey. The reason they did this was because when it comes to competition donkeys are not the stead of choice. They are stubborn, they tend to have a mind of their own, and really only mind their owners. This makes for a hilarious show as you see amateur donkey jockeys trying their hardest to coax their beast to participate in a game, but goes to show that a cavalry of donkeys would be an army of clowns. I am not saying that Jesus’ parade was humorous, but only that his chosen means of transportation was not exactly what we might expect.
Donkeys are intelligent and loyal animals that are very willing to do assist in their master’s work, but require gentle persuasion. Donkeys are used for many tasks from pulling carts and plows or bearing a load upon their backs. They are small and surefooted, but have a very powerful instinct of self-preservation. They were and are common animals, common meaning strong yet fairly inexpensive. They were not the beast used to express great wealth or power, but were the gentle beast of burden owned by the common people. A young donkey as mentioned in this passage is a donkey that is untrained, not yet fit to do work. The king of Israel, the king of kings, and lord of lords was paraded into the city of David, the jewel of Israel, upon a common unfit and untrained beast. Not a conquering warhorse, not even a strong ox, but a common donkey. What does this say about the kingdom of God?
The crowd had been waiting centuries for a king that would lead them in the ways of God, that would again bring the blessing of the Lord to their lands. They thought they had found it again as they returned from exile but they were quickly conquered again by a foe that was even worse than Babylon. They rose up and pushed the dark forces back only to be tricked into selling their security to yet another tyrannical empire. It was a cycle that continued from the beginning of their history as a nation. I say this because this all began when the people originally cried for a king to fight their battles for them and to lead them into prosperity. A king was not in God’s plan but he allowed it because the people desired a king, but God told Samuel that by asking for a king they were rejecting God as being their lord and true sovereign king.
I am not saying that the kingdom of Israel and Judah were all bad. David was a king after God’s own heart and the scriptures are filled with song of praise written by this king of Israel, but slowly the people turned from God and began to put more and more trust into the hands of their leader. Within two generations the kingdom of Israel divided and fell further from God’s intended plan where they would be his people and he would be their God. God’s plan was to be the one and only lord of their lives, but years after year they placed their trust not in God alone but in their worldly kings, who fought their battles and consumed the work of their hands.
The people wanted the warhorse but the king paraded through the crowds on a donkey. They called for a king to lead them victoriously to freedom, but they received something different. The point of the palms and donkey is that true victory comes through the common, unfit, and unlikely. The kingdom of God is not the kingdom of man.
When Jesus began to preach he said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” This does not merely mean that it is near, but literally here all around us. It was found right where they were it was not something that had to be conquered with swords and spears but one that simply had to be seen and acknowledged. The kingdom was found in the child that was curious enough to ask the question why, it is found in the disciple seeking God under the fig tree, it was found in the synagogue and on the streets. The kingdom was found on the mats of the lame and in the hearts of the blind. The kingdom of God is at hand it is all around us, here today and unto the ages.
Why then do we not see the kingdom of God? Why does it seem that so often the kingdoms of darkness seem to overtake the kingdom of light? Why did Jesus right triumphantly through his victory parade on a donkey?
When you are able to answer that last question you will begin to see the kingdom of God. All too often skew our understandings of God to meet our desires and because of this our view of the kingdom is hampered in fog. The people wanted a king to trample their enemies so that is the king they tried to find. But in the fog around them they failed to see that the victory of their king was not in trampling the enemy but bringing them into fellowship through friendship. Our king rides a donkey.
The kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of man. Jesus said that whoever wants to be the greatest must be a servant of all; that the first will be last and the last will be first. He said to the wealthy rulers that to enter the kingdom they must sell all they have that gave them worldly power and give it to the poor. Everything about God’s kingdom is opposite and opposed to the kingdoms of the world. Jesus rode a donkey not a warhorse.
We often miss the kingdom because our eyes are not trained on the common but on hills far away. When Jesus said that the kingdom of God is at hand he did not say that it is in the seats of power, or in a future time after death only, but all around us. It is common. It is found right here in our communities. The reason that God was grieved at the idea of Israel having a king is that this redirected the people’s eyes off of their community and placed them out on the high hills. This can distract the attention away from what God is calling us to do where we are. Often these high hills are not wrong but they can distract us. To turn the governing bodies into God fearers is important, feeding the hungry of the world is important, providing for the medical needs of the billions of humans in the world is important, but often those big goals cloud our vision and distort our view of the kingdom. I have had several friends leave the church because of distortions just like these. Some leave because they see the church as powerless to meet the great needs so they look to the powers of the world to provide for the needs. Or they turn from God because they have invested so much time and energy into a project and see just growing needs that they cannot provide for. But Jesus rode in victoriously on a donkey.
The kingdom of God is here. We will not see it in Washington or New York, in India or Ireland unless we first are able to see it right here. This is why God himself had to come to live among mankind because through Jesus’ life and teaching He showed us how to begin to see the kingdom of God where we are. It comes through making it our custom to worship Him, withdrawing to isolated places to pray, and to serve our community. It comes when we become people focused on Loving God, embracing his Holy Spirit, and living the love of Jesus with others. The kingdom can be experienced here today and forevermore when we redirect our attention away from the war horses and start looking at the donkeys.
The kingdom of God is not in a nation, but is in the individual lives of people within each community. It is built on life at a time, one individual at a time, one family at a time. We do not need to force people to conform but encourage our friends and neighbors to live a life of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. That is the kingdom of God. It is victorious in the commonality. It is a king riding a donkey victorious.
As we enter into this time of open worship and holy expectancy I would encourage each of us to consider the image of Jesus on that common beast of burden, consider where we are looking to see and experience the Kingdom of God, and where we are investing our time and energy. Are we able to see the kingdom of God in the lives of those around us or is our vision clouded by things beyond our control? Love your enemy, pray for those that persecute you, turn the other cheek, do not worry, and care for those that cannot care for themselves these are the things Jesus calls us to do right here because that is where the kingdom of God really is and our king rides a donkey.
John 12:20–33 (NRSV)
Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Jesus Speaks about His Death
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
So often we look out at the world around us and get a feeling that all hope has left, and that everything we once stood for is in vain. For so long I lived in that darkness, the darkness where the only hope we had was for the return of our lord and the end of days. I would pray for the rapture and wake up in the middle of the night fearful that I might have been left behind. I also woke up thinking aliens were in my room but that is a different story. But over the course of the past couple of years my perspective changed. I do not know when it exactly began to change or even what triggered this change but through all the darkness I began to see rays of light shimmering and filtering through the shadowy figures around me. When I began to see these glimpses of light hope began to take hold, I began to see God working in the lives around me, I began to see seeds of love growing in places I once perceived to be barren wastes. Dawn is rising in a new era, the kingdom of God is near.
But still is wonder what caused this change? The only answer I can give is that the Spirit of God was working, as I sought to follow the ways of Christ more fully. I cannot say that it was something that happened instantly but little by little as I walked along in my journey with Christ. Along the way God would bring people into my life that I could encourage and we would walk for a while and I witnessed just a bit of light shine through their eyes. I first noticed this change when I went to Ukraine to teach English classes, as I spoke with fellow students from a land I had always perceived to be the enemy I began to see a unity and that unity was Jesus.
As I read through this passage today I am reminded of that first glimpse into true unity in Jesus. There were some Greeks that wanted to speak with Jesus. It is quite simple to gloss over this and just say that this passage was a precursor of the kingdom of God being opened to all people. That is true, and I would venture to say that it was always true, but I feel that that does not really catch the true gravity of the situation. These were Greeks, not just gentiles but Greeks. Often we forget the magnitude of why the gospel writers made sure to include the heritage of these particular people. We understand that the Romans were not exactly loved by the Jewish people of Jesus’ day but the Romans were there for a reason, they were there because they were invited. The Greeks were conquers from the days of Alexander the Great. When Israel and Judah were sent into exile they were conquered by Babylon, then Persia, and then Persia pushed back to their farthest eastern regions by the Greeks. The Greek empire stretched all the way east to India and Israel was occupied by this culture. Under Babylon the temple of God was destroyed, but when Babylon fell to the Persians the temple was rebuilt. When the Greeks came into Israel they began to saturate the land with their culture. They would not allow the people to speak any language other than Greek, they taught Greek philosophy and religion. It was the Greeks the performed the original abomination that causes desolation when a pig was sacrificed on the Alter of the Living God. Shortly after temple worship was restored and the people could worship again as their ancestors did the Greeks tried to put a wedge between God and mankind. This desecration provided the spark that would ignite beneath the people which lead the Maccabees to revolt and under their leadership the Greeks were pushed out of power in Israel and worship was restored. From that moment on the Greeks were regarded as the worst of the Gentiles.
The Greeks lost power but they had establish colonies throughout the land, and as time passed these colonies began to unite and grow in influence threatening the young kingdom of Israel that was established, so an alliance was found with the growing power of Rome. The Romans were invited to Israel to help protect the people from the Greek influence. And the Romans stayed.
Now imagine the situation, there were Greeks seeking to speak with Jesus. Greeks wanting to speak to the newly proclaimed King of the Jews. And they sought this audience through one of the disciples, Phillip. The Greek influence over Israel was deep, even after the revolt that pushed them out of power and allowed Israel to re-establish their temple yet again, one of the closest disciples of Jesus was given a Greek name. The Greek culture, for many of us in the west, did not seem that bad. They are the ones that gave the world the governmental system that we in America love so much, they were the ones that civilized the west. Yet to the east they were a parasite that was sucking the life out of their culture. To all of those that held tightly to the ancient traditions, the Greeks and their culture were darkness. Yet that darkness reached into every aspect of life in Israel, even into the lives of the disciples of Christ.
Contemplate that for a moment. The Greek culture colonized the East, they saturated the east with their ideas, their language, their culture they totally disregarded every tradition that was held dear to those of the conquered lands yet these people were seeking to speak with the newly proclaimed king of the Jews. Does that strike you as odd? What exactly did they see in Jesus that caused them to seek his counsel?
The only reason is that Jesus brought to the world a different life. A different way of life and a different way of living. He did not seek to conquer the world but to love the world. He did not seek to condemn the world but redeem the world through him. Without raising a single sword this traveling teacher gained the respect of the nations. Jesus spoke of a different type of life, a life that opposed everything the world knew where people would conquer with friendship instead of violence and where faith was expressed with mercy mankind instead of religious rites. They sought his counsel because everything Jesus taught brought hope not only to the Jewish people but all people.
These Greek individuals came to Jesus and Jesus responded by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.” It seems like an odd response but it is fitting. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it through himself. The Greeks the most worldly of the gentile population was beginning to turn toward him this very action was a sign that things were changing and a new era was about to dawn. The powers of the world were losing their hold on the populous, not because of force but through the heart and the mind. This threatened the powers of Rome and of the temple. If this traveling teacher could attract the support of the Greeks over a third of the Roman Empire could be turned, if this teacher kept the hearts of Jewish people the power of the temple would no longer rule the faithful.
It is now time for the Son of man to be glorified. To most in the world the glorification of Christ is not something seen as powerful, it is often regarded as the exact opposite because Jesus did not use the tools the world used. In the world influence is gained through wealth and force. Jesus told the wealthy literally to give all their wealth away, and he told his disciples those that live by the sword will die by the sword. Everything about Jesus opposed the cultural norms of every civilization of the world, as does the kingdom that he established. It was not a kingdom of violence and force, it was not a kingdom of wealth and greed, but it is a kingdom of charity, service and love. Jesus is glorified because he established a new perception within the world a perception that those around us are more important than organizations, cultures, and nations. This threatens everyone who relies on wealth and force to maintain influence. Those that required those tools would then lash out and use those very tools to try to silence this emerging idea.
This new focus, this new era, the glorification of Christ is something that every generation struggles with for one very simple reason, it goes against everything the world teaches us especially in the western cultures whose roots are found among the Greeks. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” What is it that Jesus is saying what exactly does he mean? He is saying that our lives only have lasting value if we invest everything we have and everything that we are into those outside ourselves. Jesus is saying we only have true value and true life if we live for others. This is easy when it comes to people we like, it is easy for us to invest our lives in our children and our families. It is quite a different story when it comes to people beyond that, when our enemy comes knocking on our doors seeking an audience.
This is where the lights began to shine through the shadows in my life. For too long I saw the world falling apart and darkness overtaking the light, but then in the eyes of people perceived as enemies to my nation I saw something different. I saw them as they were, a human being as I was, someone that had passions and fears just as I had passions and fear. I saw that just as I was seeing them as an enemy the very same words were being used against me. And we all learned something, those words were lies. So I had to reevaluate my life and my world view because even though they may have different ideas on many things they were people, lovely generous people. They were not enemies but friends, and we were united in Christ. I came home and God began to show me many more things, not quickly but little by little. I began to see people around me differently. I began to hear the spiritual yearnings in their voices. What I once saw as darkness was actually cries for light. God is still working and he is still teaching me. The world around us is crying out to God yet do we hear their cries? They cry out to us through actions, in songs and lyrics, in art and in novels. Listen to these words, listen to what the world is seeking through the words of a song:
When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.
He said, “Son when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned?”
He said, “Will you defeat them,
Your demons, and all the non-believers,
The plans that they have made?”
Because one day I’ll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join the black parade.”- My Chemical Romance “Welcome to the Black Parade”
Do you hear the cries? Will you be the one that will encourage the broken, the beaten, and the damned? Will you be the one to defeat the demons, and the cynical? They cry out and yet feel hopeless. They seek yet do not find. My heart aches for those people. Those people are our people. They are not the people in the jungles of Africa or the heights of India, but people all around us. People left broken and defeated conquered by the world yet loved by Christ.
They seek but they do not see the church as a refuge because all too often the church has joined with the others to damn them that broke their dreams, and left them struggling to find a way in the darkness, because often we forget what the Glorification of Christ is. It is for these people Christ died. It is for the perceived enemy, the artists, the bands, the people we label with countless labels and push to the fringe of society. And we forget that we must die with Christ so that those in the world might live. The Greeks sought Jesus and he came to them, will we open our lives up to them so that they can see the light of the Glorified Christ in us?
John 2:13–22 (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
(Mt 21:12–17; Mk 11:15–19; Lk 19:45–48)
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
We live in an era where the majority of the population is angry. Every day there is someone on the radio or on TV that is yelling about something. The worst part about it is they usually do not know exactly what they are upset about or even what the situation is, yet they are all up in arms about it. The truth of the matter is that there is a lot to be angry about, but for the most part we get upset about things that we should not be upset about. The number one cause of anger in our culture today is that we do not get our way. A meal is not prepared exactly how it was wanted an individual logs onto the computer and give a bad review and demand compensation. Maybe someone down the street has a yard that is ugly so you call the city to demand a citation be given to force them to clean up. Or the one I really enjoy a store does not allow a return an item so to get back at the corporation one decides to take matters into their own hands and wrongfully convert merchandise to their own use. In any given day someone has angered you or you have made someone angry. We live in a culture so consumed by anger that we offer classes on how to better manage the anger.
Then we read passages like this in scripture. Jesus got angry, Jesus even got a bit physical, he does not quite fit the assumption of the easy going, gracious loving guy we want him to be. Which causes us to step back and ask is it ok to be angry. Of course it is, anger is an emotion and God gave us our emotions for a reason. The real question is if our anger is justified?
Jesus got angry. This is just another powerful example of the humanity of God that give our faith so much power. Jesus was and is fully human while remaining fully God, he experienced the emotional wave that each of us experience yet he acted on those emotions without sin. Our emotions are not sinful, but a natural response to our interpretation of what is going on around us. Emotions cannot be sinful. What is causing the emotions and what we do in response to the emotions are more important. This is the difference between the anger that Jesus experienced and the anger that ninety percent of the general population experience. Please do not try to look up that statistic because it is just a random number that I pull out of thin air and I would hate for someone to get angry over an inaccurate statistic made in a sermon. But I pull that number out of the air because most of our responses to the emotions of anger are not sinless, in fact most of our anger is sinful. Because sin is an activity that can detract from our relationship with God, or detract us from relationships with those God loves. Most if not all of our anger leads to sin, because the anger that we often experience causes us to drive wedges between others which lead to schisms that we do not intend to ever reconcile.
For us the greatest problem is that we misuse our emotions. We do not have the knowledge to channel our emotions in healthy ways, to use the power of our emotions to make proper decisions. Often our emotions scare us so we do not examine what or where the roots of the emotions are coming from. We are afraid to examine our emotions because if we were to actually dig into our emotions we might find something more frightening, something like we are not actually the person we would like others to believe we are. So we react out of ignorance and in the process we cause more harm than good. This is why I say ninety percent of our responses to anger are sinful. Consider the last time you were angry. As you consider that emotion response consider what was triggering that response, and why was that the trigger? If I were to guess where that examination led I could venture to say that most of us had an emotional response that we self-centered in some way. There will also be a few responses that are different, and those responses are important as well because once we can begin to see the root of the emotion then we are able to work with it.
Jesus got angry…in fact Jesus got really angry. Jesus was filled with what most of us would call a righteous anger. The root of his anger was not out of self-centeredness but rooted somewhere else. He was upset because they were making his Father’s house a marketplace! John actually is pretty calm every other gospel writer recounts as a den of robbers, which should cause us to wonder. If you were to examine the gospels more thoroughly you would find that John and the other gospels take different approaches to relay a similar story. John is the most spiritual of the Gospels, John spends most of his time relaying the divinity of Jesus, while the other three Gospels tend to focus more on the humanity. That does not mean that John does not support or show the humanity of Christ or the others do not express Jesus as being God incarnate it simply means that each Gospel writer was inspired to write from a different perspective. But these perspectives are rich. Each Gospel records this incident, but each points out just a bit of a different aspect of why Jesus was angry. In the three gospels that use “a den of robbers.” Jesus is angry with the exploitation of humanity, John’s Gospel gives us a perspective of the exploitation of God.
Let us begin with the exploitation of Humanity, or the den of robbers. There was only one place that people could offer sacrifices to the Hebrew God, that one place was in the temple at Jerusalem. People would come from all over the known world travel to this temple to worship and bring offerings to God. This offered this one city a huge monopoly on religion. There was only one place to worship. Sure there was Samaria and the mountain of Gerizim that provided an alternative to the temple but it was not pure in the eyes of the religious elites. So people from the north and the south, the east and the west were all traveling to this one city to offer sacrifices. I do not know if you have ever gone on vacation or a sporting event but usually once you get to the destination the prices all begin to go up dramatically, and there are usually laws or rules that ban bringing items from outside. This is pretty much what is going on at the temple. They are a destination site, once you are inside there are rules that one must abide by. If you are going to offer a sacrifice, well that sacrificial animal would have to be without blemish. Meaning it had to be a perfect animal. From growing up on a farm and raising livestock I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to raise and transport an animal without blemish. It may leave the stockyard perfect, but the travel will cause damage to the coat, the animal is stressed so it loses weight and is more susceptible to disease. So you may have left with a perfect animal and you arrive with a near perfect animal but it is wore out. But that is ok, because you can purchase a replacement right at the temple. And like popcorn at home verse popcorn at a movie theater the price is just a bit different.
Wait there is more. The currency used within the temple gates is not the same currency that you traveled with so before you can purchase the perfect animal from the temple you would have to convert your currency. The currency exchange even today can be big business. And destination spots often take advantage of the exchange rates. When I spent two months in Ukraine I converted currency quite often. The exchange rate did not vary too far from one dollar equaling five hryvnia. But while I was in Ukraine we took a weekend trip to Yalta in the Crimea. There is a reason Russia wanted the Crimea and it is because it is a beautiful place, and Yalta was one of the best places to visit. So much so that there were vacation palaces there from the aristocracy all around this region. I actually visited three palaces and even ate a meal in one. Because Yalta was a destination place and there were several tourists from all over the world the exchange rates were vastly different from other places. In Yalta one dollar was worth three hryvnia, which is still decent until you consider that at the time one dollar was equal to 2.50 German marks and the economy of Ukraine and Germany were not even close. What I am getting at is that because of the destination and the greater need to exchange currency at a tourist rich place the money changers could get away with shorting me $0.13, and I let them. The difference between my experience and that of the temple is that there were not alternatives. I could still use US Dollars anywhere in Ukraine, in fact they preferred it. In the temple they only accepted temple currency so the people were at the mercy of the money changers.
Some would say that they were just using good business practices but that is not exactly the case. There were no real alternatives. One place to make sacrifices, one place to buy the sacrifices, one currency that could be used, which means those that are selling can charge you whatever they could get by with, which also meant that if you went to the temple chances are you spent all you had. This is exploitation, taking advantage of a situation. Just because someone can do something does not mean that it is right.
John takes a different approach to this incident than the other writers, he does not call it a den of robbers but a marketplace. There is a slight difference, because in one aspect the people’s finances are being taken advantage of in the other it is their spirituality. The temple in is selling redemption. Which cheapens God, and puts a price or a financial value to sin. If you can afford it can get away with anything. This breed corruption. This pay as you go spirituality is very damaging. You can buy God. You can buy God’s favor. You can pay to have your sins overlooked.
Jesus is angry because of exploitation. People are being taken advantage of, and people are getting an inaccurate and cheap image of God. Where is discipline in this picture? Where is love? There is no love in a culture of exploitation because everything about it is self-centered. Today is no different than two thousand years ago. There are 27 million people who live in some form of slavery some even say the number is over 35 million. The Global Slavery index states that there are approximately 60,000 individuals living in slavery in the United States today. Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry with the average value for each individual is $90. Ninety dollars for a human life. Jesus is angry because of exploitation. That is not all of it though, because this is happening right under our noses and what are we doing? We as a church are engaging in cultural wars, fighting amongst ourselves over political issues, chasing a dwindling number of church attenders. And we have failed to really take up the cross to follow Jesus. We have cheapened God, cheapened humanity. I think Jesus is beyond angry and instead Jesus weeps.
Is this a problem? Should we be concerned? Yes! Exploitation is all around us and it dehumanizes us all. Jesus told the religious leaders destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it. Jesus was not only saying kill me and I will raise in three days but he was challenging the very world view of the masses. Their temple and world was built on the exploitation, Jesus stood for something different. Jesus loved all, he served all, and he even bent down and washed the feet of the very man who would lead him to his death. Yet Jesus changed the very course of the world. The followers of Christ loved the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed. They gave dignity to the slaves and respect to all, and they grew in number because the world tried to destroy Jesus yet one cannot bury God for long.
We live in a world that exploits, that is angry, that is driven by selfish ambition. Jesus calls us to a different life and a different world one that is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. It is a lifestyle contrary to everything the world teaches and is foolish in the eyes of most but it is one that is worth the risk.