Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.
Not long before the Jewish festival of Passover, Jesus went to Jerusalem. There he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves in the temple. He also saw moneychangers sitting at their tables.
So he took some rope and made a whip. Then he chased everyone out of the temple, together with their sheep and cattle. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins.
Jesus said to the people who had been selling doves, “Get those doves out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace.”
The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, “My love for your house burns in me like a fire.”
The Jewish leaders asked Jesus, “What miracle will you work to show us why you have done this?”
“Destroy this temple,” Jesus answered, “and in three days I will build it again!”
The leaders replied, “It took 46 years to build this temple. What makes you think you can rebuild it in three days?”
But Jesus was talking about his body as a temple.
— John 2:13-22 (CEV)
Our Gospel reading this week takes us to the early part of Jesus’ ministry. He and His disciples come to Jerusalem for Passover. The first of three trips that would be made by them for this purpose. Some Scholars believe that the event recorded in John and the similar event recorded in the latter part of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19) are in reality two separate occurrences. We also have two other instances (Mark 12 and Luke 20) where Jesus condemns the Temple leaders for their activities in the Temple.
These stories all beg the question, “What would Jesus say about our Temples today?”
According to a study by Lifeway, approximately 83% of American church budgets go to staff and building expenses. Leaving 17% for ministries and outreach (10% distributed evenly between foreign and domestic missions and 7% to internal church programs). 83% go to make the congregants comfortable, while 17% goes to making His name great. Further studies show that Lifeway’s estimate of 5% to foreign missions may actually be high.
It has been said that you can determine what’s important to a person by looking into their checkbook. This is also true for churches. If you want to know what’s near and dear to their heart, look at their checkbook. Where are they spending their money? Is it to further the name of God or to make their congregations more comfortable?
Jesus was not happy with the way that the Temple was being used. It had become a place more focused on convenience and profit than a place focused on helping the widow and the orphan (Jesus’ criticism of the Temple leadership in Mark 12 and Luke 20).
From the Scriptures we can get a clear understanding of what Jesus expected religion (both in the first century and today) to look like.
I’ll tell you what it really means to worship YHWH. Remove the chains of prisoners who are bound unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don’t turn from your relatives. Then your light will shine like the dawning sun, and you will quickly be healed. Your honesty will protect you ass you advance, and the glory of YHWH will defend you from behind. When you beg YHWH for help, he will answer, “Here I am!”
Don’t mistreat others or falsely accuse them or say something cruel. Give your food to the hungry and care for the homeless. Then your light will shine in the dark; your darkest hour will be like the noonday sun. YHWH will always guide you and provide good things to eat when you are in the desert. He will make you healthy. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water or like a stream that never runs dry. You will rebuild those houses left in ruins for year; you will be known as a builder and repairer of city walls and streets.
— Isaiah 58:6-12 (CEV)
Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.
— James 1:27 (CEV)
As you examine your checkbook, or the checkbook of your church, do you see these things being accomplished? How would Jesus respond when He entered your Temple (both church building and your heart (1 Corinthians 3:16)?
When we start living our lives in the way described in Isaiah 58 and James 1, then it will be said of us:
“I am like a stranger to my relatives and like a foreigner to my own family. My love for your house burns in me like a fire, and when others insult you (YHWH), they insult me as well.” — Psalm 69:8-9 (CEV)