He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. (Mark [11:15])

This particular Monday may have felt like the proverbial Monday morning in the modern Western world — a time to reengage the grind and get back to work. Jesus, indeed, walked into Jerusalem to take care of business.

The meek and mild Jesus of progressive “tolerance” that so many of our contemporaries have come to prefer was nowhere to be found when he made a mess of the money-changers. There was nothing soft and tender on display when Jesus, in Jeremiah-like fashion, pronounced a resounding judgment on Israel.

In no uncertain terms, his rebuke fell on their worship.

Pigeons! Get Your Pigeons!

The Christian tradition in which I was raised regularly had visiting musical groups play concerts. As you can imagine, these groups would have their albums and other merchandise to promote on the circuit, but at our local church, they weren’t allowed to sell them — at least not in the church foyer where most attenders entered. The rationale came from Mark [11:15]–19when Jesus cleansed the temple. Jesus clearly didn’t like it when folks hawked their wares around the temple, and therefore we shouldn’t sell stuff around the sanctuary.

To be sure, the place of worship in first-century Judaism and the auditorium of a rural Baptist church in America don’t exactly correspond, but true to Jesus’s words, my home church didn’t want the place of worship to be co-opted as a place of commerce. And that much is right.

So this is one temple problem going on in Jesus’s day. If you can imagine, the city would have been packed with pilgrims because of Passover. They would have come to the temple to offer sacrifices and, seizing an opportunity, pigeon-vendors set up shop. It might not have been too different from a sporting event today when sweaty salesmen walk the aisles and herald their popcorn — except these were sacrificial birds, their motive was sinister, and the prices were probably jacked even higher. “Pigeons! Get your pigeons!” they would have hollered.

Without doubt, this is a far cry from what the place of worship should have been, and Jesus wouldn’t have it. Turning heads by his claim of authority, Jesus spoke for God and turned over tables. And central to it all was what he quoted from the Old Testament, from Isaiah and Jeremiah:

“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? [Isaiah 56:7–8] But you have made it a den of robbers [Jeremiah [7:11]].”

Written by Jonathan Parnell
Read more at Desiring God

2 thoughts on “Jesus Turns the Tables”
  1. The problem I have always had with the Church as a whole (and certain folks in hierarchical positions) is that of financial concupiscence. The sin of greed, the over-weening desire to accumulate wealth at the cost of the poor parishioners. Here are the simple poor folks, tightening their belts and giving their hard earned mite to the church while those in the hierarchy live in splendor, The finest accommodations, cars, furniture, embroidered vestments, silk cassocks, etc. Some, by their accumulated wealth, exert power and are too involved in political machinations than in liturgical celebrations of the sacraments.
    Reform is needed, from the top to the bottom, from the Patriarch to the monastics to the simple married priest serving in a parish.

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