Lenten Day 14: Setting Up God-Shop In The Temple.

Today’s Lectio Divina: Luke 19: 45-48 (MsgB)

Going into the Temple He (Jesus) began to throw out everyone who had set up shop, selling everything and anything. He said, “It’s written in Scripture, My house is a house of prayer; You have turned it into a religious bazaar.” From then on He taught each day in the Temple. The high priests, religion scholars, and the leaders of the people were trying their best to find a way to get rid of Him. But with the people hanging on every word He spoke, they couldn’t come up with anything.

For those of you who are familiar with retailing in America, there are products merchants sell at the front of their stores called ‘impulse items’. When you go into a grocery store, for example, the checkout lanes are full of impulse items. Products you and I would not normally buy, but because we’re standing in line, waiting to pay for our groceries, most of us tend to lean over and pick up a candy bar, a pack of gum or mints. Or better yet, we see the latest headline screaming at us from that National Enquirer, and since inquiring minds really want to know, we toss a copy onto the grocer’s conveyor belt, right alongside our milk, bread and orange juice. Before it’s done, you and I have added another $5 or more of impulse items to our total purchase, leaving one happy grocer and me with five fewer dollars in my pocket.

Now, many of us westerners have little understanding of the angry Jesus we find here in Luke’s gospel. To most of us, this fit of rage we see in mild-mannered Jesus seems so out of character for Him. Two other gospel writers (Matthew & Mark) indicate that Jesus starts tipping over tables, releasing doves, and generally making a big scene here. Certainly, if you were in the temple on this day prior to Passover 33 AD, you would remember this commotion. Without a doubt, the leaders of the Temple remember it well later in the week when they start constructing a list of offenses they have against Jesus.

So, in the spirit of understanding, let me suggest to you that Jesus is angry here because God’s Holy Temple is being infiltrated by retailers’ ‘impulse items.’ Tables and tables of religious products. Rows and rows of retailers’ wares, all necessary stuff, readily available for anyone coming to the Temple for a productive day in God’s presence!

Keep in mind that every household was expected to travel to Jerusalem at least three times each year to be a part of the major religious ceremonies of the Hebrew people. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were the three road trips on everyone’s social calendar. One was in the spring, the second in early summer, and the third was at year-end or harvest time. Every household was required by law to bring minimally a sacrificial lamb or dove with them to these feasts where the priests would take the people’s offerings and sacrifice them to the Lord.

As a convenience for those who traveled long distances, merchants offered choice animals to the pilgrims as they entered into the Temple. But here’s the rub. The temple system had become so polluted, the merchants had actually been allowed to come into the temple gates and sell their wares in the outer courts of the temple. Now, on one hand, that sounds like a nice convenience to the pilgrims,  but let’s be honest here. Just like a union shop in Chicago gets a bit of booty under the table for special privilege and juicy contracts, so the temple priests were most likely getting an extra cut from the merchants who were allowed to set up shop right inside the temple gates. Now I can’t prove it, but since I spent a lot of years in Christian bookselling and retailing, I’m guessing the merchants not only had doves and lambs for sale but a good supply of other impulse items as well. I can just see the line of custom T-shirts, key chains, and souvenir mugs available for sale near the cash register. Special today. Buy one lamb, get a half-price T-Shirt that reads ‘Passover 33 AD. I Was There!’

One other bug-a-boo in this story that we westerners fail to recognize is that the outer courts of the temple were the only place on the entire temple grounds in Jerusalem where non-Jews or Gentile followers of God were allowed to be. If you were Jewish, you could go on into the inner parts of the temple where the rabbis taught and the synagogue business is transacted. But if you were a God-fearing Gentile (i.e. one who loved God but had no Jewish blood in you), the outer courts are as close to God-business as one could get.

So Jesus, when He sees how crowded the outer courts have become with the hustle and bustle of Temple retailing, is livid. The very space that has been delegated to those who love God but are not Jews is being eaten up by religious nonsense and tables of religious impulse items. Who knows? Copies of the pre-cursor to National Enquirer might have been there, for all I know!

Yikes. What’s a Messiah who loves not only the Jew but the Gentile to do?

The best response is obvious. Jesus must clear away the ‘impulse’ and ‘repulse’ items as quickly as He can. While our Lord knows there will be hell to pay for messing with the religious system of His day, He’d rather have the wrath of a few retailers rather than sin against the Father heart of God; a heart that breaks anytime His people are too busy doing in-house God-business, at the cost of ignoring and shutting out those who want to get in, but can’t because of religious tradition!

Thank You, Jesus.

Bold move, but definitely, the right one!

My prayer: Jesus, please review the tables outside my inner courts. Tip over any aspect of my life that runs contrary to the Father heart of God in me. May my life be a place where the only God-business is His, and His alone. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: Where have I sacrificed space in my life for the wrong products? How have I fallen prey to Christian impulse items, letting cheap religious activity push out the true devotional faith Jesus wants me to have? Where have I compromised with the world, allowing an ungodly religious activity to come inside my house and home, pushing out the true business of God?

So, what are you experiencing today as we are journeying through this Lenten Adventure?

Over a 48-day period (from Ash Wednesday through the Monday after Easter), you and I will be taking a deeper look at the stories surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus (especially the last week known as Holy Week) as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Our Lenten Journey home page for ease of use. 

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!

Click here to go onto the next Lenten session…

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