Read Mark 11:15-19
The passage chosen for today is filled with many interesting details. This is also a passage which many people can relate to since Jesus displays the emotion of anger which everyone deals with frequently. The scene which unfolds creates a dynamic in regard to necessary customs, authority, and greed.
The custom of the time when this scene plays out is that after centuries of the Hebrew people offering sacrifices as delineated in the scriptures of Moses, the availability of needed sacrificial animals and offerings was reduced. A shift from a purely agrarian lifestyle to a mix of tradespeople, merchants and farmers had taken place. Jesus, himself, was not of an agricultural or merchant background but was part of a family that plied the trade of carpentry. This led to the custom of people purchasing the necessary elements for sacrifices from merchants in the temple courts. In addition, outside the temple the people had to use the currency of the occupying Romans while in the temple, conly the Hebrew currency was allowed. This necessitated someone to make the conversion of currency. Why then was Jesus so upset?
The issue for Jesus is that some of the merchants and money exchangers were profiting large sums from there necessary services. In addition the high amounts, the poor utilized these services at a disproportionately higher level than the wealthy because they needed approved sacrificial elements more often. For Jesus, this taking advantage of the poor stood in sharp contrast to God’s instructions.
Observing the responses of the chief priests, teachers, and the people indicate that an issue of authority is playing out here. Jesus is seen by the chief priests and teachers as a threat to their authority. His apparent upheaval of long-standing customs is evidence of his devised attacks upon them. The people, however, see the matter differently. They are amazed at the authority which is inherent in his teaching. Jesus connects actions and words in a consistent way which is not what they have witnessed from the leadership of others. This gives him authority in their viewpoint.
Another interesting aspect is the timing of this outburst on Jesus’s part. It appears that this scene occurs during Jesus’s final visit to Jerusalem prior to his arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Could the overturning of the merchant and money exchanger tables be a foreshadowing of the overturning of the whole sacrificial system which Jesus’s death will bring about? Jesus will become the final and fully sufficient sacrifice for the redemption of humanity. After his crucifixion, there will no longer be a need for these merchants and money exchangers in the temple courts. The temple will truly become a place of prayer and worship.
Our takeaway from this passage could be three-fold. The first is to not use necessity to line one’s pockets, especially at the cost of the less fortunate. Second, the connection between words and actions gives us a better perception of true authority. Third, remember the all-sufficient sacrifice has been made in Jesus Christ. You are fully redeemed and no sacrifice on your part is demanded any longer.