Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jesus in the temple (4)

... continued from yesterday.  This series is on Jesus and Judgment.
3. Judgment of Israel
So far in the chapter, I've argued that Jesus did likely teach that judgment was coming to those alive on the earth, even if it was not the focus of his preaching.  Additionally, Jesus seems to have had a prophetic message of judgment against the temple leadership of Israel, at least in the final week of his ministry.  The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all understood Jesus' words and actions in this regard to predict the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

More than anything else, it was probably Jesus' action in the temple during passion week that set in motion the concrete political mechanisms that ended in the crucifixion.  Jesus certainly came into conflict with various people during his ministry, as we saw back in chapter 4.  But it doesn't seem likely that he tangled much with the temple leaders or chief priests until that day he walked into the temple courts and overthrew the tables of those who were changing money and selling animals for sacrifice.  More than anyone else, these were the people who had the kinds of connections with the Romans that could get a person killed.

On the one hand, it was generally necessary to have such a service. [1] It simply wasn't practical for someone to bring a goat or lamb with them for sacrifice from half way around the Mediterranean.  And to buy such things, money was needed (again, bringing something with you to trade from around the world wasn't practical) and it would need to be exchanged to the right currency.  Clearly something about the scene angered Jesus, but it surely was not the practice of buying and selling itself. Surely it was the way they were doing it--or where--that angered him.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all link Jesus' action to two Scriptures.  The first is Isaiah 56:7, "My house will be called a house of prayer."  Instead, what Jesus saw was Jeremiah 7:11: "a den of robbers."  Some focus primarily on the first verse to explain what angered Jesus.  The context of Isaiah 56:7 is all the nations of the world coming to worship at the temple.  In fact, Mark 11:17 gives the part of the quote that says the temple should be a house of prayer for all nations.

So some see Jesus angry primarily because of where they were selling things.  Foreigners who might otherwise worship God in the temple courts were instead confronted by buying and selling there.  At the same time, it is surely significant that neither Matthew nor Luke give the part of the quote that says, "for all nations."  They were likely using Mark as a source and yet seem to have deliberately left this part of the quote out.  Also, the Gentiles were arguably not the focus of Jesus' earthly ministry (cf. Matt. 10:5).

So others might focus more on the second Scripture from Jeremiah.  It comes in the context of the approaching destruction of the temple in 586BC.  There is of course a striking similarity here in the sense that Jesus is also remembered as predicting the destruction of the temple, which took place in AD70.  Jeremiah's complaint is the the priests of his day had made the temple into a "den of robbers."  Jeremiah accused the leaders of day of hiding their injustice behind the temple.  They were murderers, adulterers, thieves, perjurers, idolaters, and yet somehow thought the fact that they ran the temple would protect them from coming judgment (Jer. 7:9-10).

This second focus does indeed fit the emphases of Jesus ministry very well, as we have seen. Of course the gospels are not video recorders. They are unpacking the event.  One may or may not talk too much when you are angrily overturning tables and chasing people.  And the kinds of things that spark anger are usually more complex and emotional than a matter of logical argument and ideas.

Accordingly, both the answers above may have some truth to them.  Jesus is confronted by a scene of merchandising when the temple should be for worshiping God.  And it should be for everyone, not just for those who have the coinage necessary to buy sheep and doves.  The situation evokes key elements of his prophetic message for Israel, especially the way those who are rich and powerful couldn't care less about the vast majority of the people, the lost sheep of Israel...

[1] So E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism ***.


FrGregACCA said...

Isn't it also the case that the sellers and currency traders were gouging their patrons. Given the circumstances, there was clearly an element of monopoly present, and this would certainly fit well with the "den of thieves" reference.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Jewish religon had only ONE place they considered HOLY, that was Jerusalem. This was their "trek to Mecca". Therefore, of course, the scriptures would condemn certain practices, because religion seeks to "set apart" "God from the rest of the world" this is what worship does in a religious sect's eyes.

Today we have many Christian sects that all claim supremacy in their interpretative framing of the text or the question is a matter of personal choice, value, and allegience

Christian scientists have had a intergrating way of understanding belief/facts. What is discovered in the world of science is accomodated to "Nature's God"....(if one chooses to believe that god oversaw evolutionary processes)...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

while the atheist can collaborate with these believers over what is (facts) and then presume on the "Moral Ought"....which is only a presumption, because morality itself is a question of and about value(s). In a liberal society, values are matters of personal opinion (priority).