December 7, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 21:12-17.
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.'” The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them. When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wondrous things he was doing, and the children crying out in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; and have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany, and there he spent the night.
This temple area was called the Court of Gentiles, the outermost court beyond which Gentiles could not venture. This is where the commercial exchanges took place. Also, drawing from 2 Samuel the Jews believed that the blind and lame were forbidden to enter the temple. So, that’s the setup. Jesus challenged the temple authorities by driving out the vendors and money changers who paid a fee for the privilege. And he defied their decree that the blind and the lame could not enter by healing them. It was an in-your-face challenge that the authorities couldn’t ignore or let pass. Even the children were adoring Jesus. It had to stop and they began plotting to get rid of him.
Jesus embraced all these marginalized people while he tried to convert those in power. The poor and the blind and the lame, all those hurting souls, flocked to him, praised him, adored him. Enormous crowds followed him wherever he went, even into Jerusalem for the Passover. All their hopes had become bound up in him, hopes for a better life.
This is the only act of violence committed by Jesus in the gospels. I can imagine the tension and exasperation that may have filled him as he knowingly approached his final days thinking that he had failed in his mission to bring about his Father’s kingdom among the Jews. The power of those in authority and the wealthy had not been broken; their hearts had not been opened. They were still in a position of dominance over the poor, the uneducated, the sick, the powerless and they weren’t about to relinquish that power. The money changers symbolized the exploitation of the poor in the name of God no less. It seems to have all came together causing this explosive reaction by Jesus. After all this Jesus must have been spent. He left the temple and walked a few miles to Bethany where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. He may very well have stayed with them to have his spirits restored, to be cared for, to rest in the love of his friends for a night.
Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah 56, “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” God’s house, God’s love is open to all. That means that no one is excluded; one can only exclude himself. But the Jews had established all these laws and regulations and even built the temple in a way that barred people from God. God invites and welcomes while man rejects and excludes. No one, no institution, no religion owns God; none hold the key to the kingdom of God. Why is that so hard for us to accept? Why do we insist that our way of believing and worshipping is the only way? Why do we feel the need to exalt ourselves over others? No wonder Jesus was so exasperated!
Yet he didn’t give up. His heart went out to the blind and lame whom he cured. He heard the cries of the children and stood up for them before the authorities. He persisted to the end even asking his Father to forgive those responsible for his torture and death. The persistence of love and forgiveness and invitation to the kingdom for all. That’s the essence of the gospel of Jesus. That is what I should rejoice in by living the gospel this Advent as God arrives among us in the person of his Son Jesus. That can be my gift to Jesus this Christmas and through the year — joyfully living the gospel by persisting in loving, forgiving, and inviting.