Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Matthew 21:12–17

Matthew 21:12–17 (ESV): Jesus Cleanses the Temple


In the last passage Jesus had been wildly praised and rejoiced over by the crowds on his way into Jerusalem. In this passage Jesus has the city and now enters the temple, where he immediately drives out all who are buying and selling there (the money changers and the ones selling pigeons/animals for sacrifice). And he tells them why:

He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (verse 13 (ESV))
These are quotes from Isaiah 56:7 (ESV) and Jeremiah 7:11 (ESV).

People then start bringing the blind and the lame to him, still in the temple, and he heals them. And then the children start crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (verse 15 (ESV)). The picture Matthew presents is one almost of chaos, and the chief priests and the scribes don’t much like it. Out of all that’s happening they focus on the children, and ask Jesus if he hears what they’re saying, probably expecting Jesus to correct the children. Instead, however, he reinforces that they’re correct in what they’re saying:

… and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
  you have prepared praise’?”

(verse 16 (ESV))

After this he leaves Jerusalem and goes to lodge at Bethany (reported in verse 17 (ESV), as any Simpsons fan will know).


One might wonder why there are people buying and selling in the temple in the first place—it sounds crassly commercial even to modern-day ears (and we’re all about crass commercialism)—but I think there was a reason behind it that was at least understandable: Not everyone lived close to the temple, so in order to come to the temple and make the appropriate sacrifices, it wouldn’t have been feasible to bring the appropriate animals with you. So they’d be available for sale closer to the temple. Plus, since people are from many different regions, they wouldn’t all be using the same form of currency, they’d be using currency from wherever they lived, so they would need a way to change their money to the local currency as would be used in Jerusalem, in order to buy the appropriate items for sacrificing. All of this is well and good; I don’t think Jesus would have had an issue with this. However, it’s the profit that people are taking in each of these transactions. “You’ve come from far away? Well then, you’ll need to change your currency to the local currency—and I’ll just take a commission off of that, thankyouverymuch. Now, you need to buy some pigeons for a sacrifice? Well my friend here can sell you some—at a rate that’s not much more than you’d pay elsewhere (depending on your definition of ‘much’).” People are coming to worship God, and are being ripped off and taken advantage of.

We can probably all agree to that. Now here’s an extra credit question: how much profit by these money changers and animal sellers would be too much? Would any profit be acceptable? How does that translate to modern times; how much profit is too much when selling Christian music? (Not just CDs, also sheet music for songs you’ve written for worship.) How about Bibles: how much profit is too much when selling the Word of God? Is it ever right to make a profit off of the Word?

As mentioned above, I get the impression that when the chief priests and scribes point out to Jesus what the children are saying that they’re probably expecting Jesus to correct the children. It is very clear what is being said, when they call Jesus “Son of David”—they’re saying he’s the Messiah. I think the religious leaders are expecting Jesus to tell the children something like, “Now now, I’m just a prophet—don’t confuse me with God, or His Chosen One.” Instead, Jesus reinforces what the children are saying. He’s telling the chief priests and scribes that the children have it right—he is the Son of David!

I always try to put myself in the place of the religious leaders: if Jesus really was a prophet sent by God, then he’d hold God’s Scriptures up very highly. If Jesus were to blaspheme, not only would it be proof that he wasn’t sent by God, it would be just cause to have him stoned to death. If, for example, healing people on the Sabbath had actually been a sin, then when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath it really would have been proof that he wasn’t sent by God. (Maybe not good enough proof on its own—when we look at some of the people God used in the past, they weren’t all perfect—but it would have been at least a piece of evidence.) The Pharisees and chief priests and scribes had it right, in a sense: if Jesus was committing all of these sins—or he committed any sins—then he wasn’t the Son of God, and shouldn’t have been followed. The problem was that their definition of sin didn’t mesh with the way the Scriptures defined sin, and so they thought he was sinning when he actually wasn’t. It is interesting, though, that the religious leaders in this passage try to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt. (At least, from their perspective.) When the children start calling him Son of David, they give him the opportunity to correct the children, which, in their minds, would allow him to avert what they would have considered to be blasphemy. (And, again, for anyone other than Jesus to have taken on that title, it would have been blasphemous.)
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