Being Fair

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22 (NIV)

Imagine attending an event where there are many vendors who have booths set up in an attempt to sell you their product or services. You might be at a fair, a convention, or a festival. The booths are side by side in multiple rows. There seems to be a variety of products to choose from and some vendors are selling similar products or services. Each vendor tries to entice you to stop so they can convince you why you need what they are offering. The noise and the endless amount of sales pitches can be mind-boggling.

Jesus enters the courts of the temple and witnesses a scene like described above. Added to the vendor booths are booths where the Jews can exchange their Roman money for Jewish denarii. There is a practical side to all of this. First, the Jews were required to use the coin of the occupying government, Romans, for transactions outside the temple. Inside the temple and among Jews, they needed to use denarii for offerings and transactions since that is the money of the Jews. Being able to make exchanges both ways was the job of the money changer. In regard to the animals mentioned here, they were needed to make the required sacrifices as prescribed by Jewish law. Since some Jews had to travel a long distance to the temple, it was often more practical to not bring animals along but instead to purchase them when arriving at the temple. The issue which Jesus raises is the corruption and greed which prevailed among the vendors. The vendors were taking advantage of the people and their needs.

Here we are given a warning and a call to action. The warning comes in how Jesus responds to the vendors. If we are providing necessary services in or out of the community of faith, we must avoid the temptation of allowing greed to enter our transactions with others. Attempts to get ahead or benefit beyond our own needs are not acceptable in the eyes of our Lord. The call to action is in the example Jesus sets here. When we witness greed, corruption, and injustice, we must speak up. We cannot be silent witnesses. We must engage in change. Our call and authority to act is found in the One who allowed the temple to be torn down and raised again in three days.

Power Abuse

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

21:1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 20:45-21:4 (NIV)

In the late 19th century, Lord John Acton shared in a letter to an Anglican bishop a remark which has been quoted many times since he wrote it. Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” How many times throughout history have we seen the truth of Lord Acton’s words? Power can easily change an individual’s behavior. The person can become destructive to others and, at times, to themselves. A person who obtains power and notoriety must be diligent about not adopting destructive behaviors. Having someone who will keep the individual accountable for their change in behavior is beneficial. 

Jesus raises this type of issue with his disciples. They are standing in the temple courts. Jesus warns his disciples to not adopt the behaviors of the teachers of the law. As they have gained power and status because of their position, they have been corrupted. No longer are they servants of the people but now they demand the best of everything. They use their power in destructive ways. In the midst of Jesus’s teaching, a poor widow approaches the collection box in the temple. She places all she has in the box as her donation to God’s work. Jesus points her out to the disciples as a contrasting illustration. Instead of holding back for her own desires, and probably needs, she gives all. She did not demand the best but gave the most.

We can unintentionally adopt the behaviors of the teachers of the law. When we have been given the power to obtain more, we easily can use that power at the expense of others. Being consumed by the urge to obtain more and/or better, it can be easy to lose sight of how our behaviors impact others. Easily we forget our duty to serve others and ensure they have all which they need. We can overlook the poor widow who gives all. Using what we have been entrusted with by the Lord, we should not only take care of our needs but give so other people can receive what sustains them.