As we enter holy week (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter) we often celebrate Jesus triumphal entry and then his unjust trial, crucifixion and resurrection. But this excerpt from the book Gospel Justice shows the importance of what Jesus did on Monday when he cleared the temple of injustice. He could not abide injustice, and neither should we:
Jerusalem was abuzz with the name. “Did you see the crowds when Jesus entered yesterday?” “They say Jesus will be king.” “I heard Jesus makes the blind see.” “I hear Jesus is on his way here from Bethany.” “Maybe we’ll get to see him perform a miracle.”
The name electrified the air as people hurried about the business of the day. Many made their way through the court of the gentiles using it as a short cut from the Mount of Olives. The court was bustling with merchants selling birds and animals for the Passover.
As the people longed for a king to free them from Rome, they saw the money lenders exchanging Roman currency for the temple coinage. As they hoped to see miracles performed, they saw gentiles trying to pray amidst the noise and smell of animals.
They saw but they did not see. They were thinking of Jesus. They were thinking of the greatness they might see. They wanted change and believed Jesus could bring it. Focused on what that would mean for them, they marched past the injustice in their midst.
Jesus was coming. Everyone could feel it. The air was tense with anticipation. But today Jesus would not enter on a colt to the praise of crowds. Today he would shock the people. His popularity would instantly turn. Jesus wasn’t who they wanted him to be. Even now he stood over the city resolute in what must be done.
Jesus examined a fig tree in full leaf. The disciples thought how strange he should look for fruit when it was not the season for figs. They were surprised when he got angry and cursed the tree which would wither and die. They did not see what Jesus saw and failed to understand.
Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem. While his heart wept for the lost (Luke 19:41), it burned against the proud. He knew the hearts of people who looked good on the outside, but bore no fruit. The fig tree served as an illustration of fruitless lives. Without another word he resolutely set out for the temple.
Entering the court of the gentiles, he ignored the whispers of people staring at him. He was glaring at the injustice they ignored. Poor pilgrims were being robbed. They were being deliberately taken advantage of as they needed an offering for the Passover. The money lenders used dishonest scales to exploit the poor. Jesus responded in righteous anger. (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-46).
The sound of a whip shattered the noise of people and animals. Those gathering around Jesus suddenly fled as coins went flying, merchants scattered, cages burst open and birds took to the air. Everything changed when Jesus rid the temple of these robbers. An angry voice cried out, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17.
Jesus intentionally quoted Isaiah and Jeremiah.
The Isaiah passage began, “Be just and fair to all. Do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you and to display my righteousness among you.” Isaiah 56:1.
Do what is right and good. Be just and fair to all. Jesus is coming to rescue and display his righteousness in anger against those who exploit others.
Jeremiah referred to the temple being a den of robbers because the people exploited foreigners, orphans and widows: “don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here! But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows.” Jeremiah 7:4-6.
Jeremiah condemned the people for going through the motions of worship while following their own wants and desires. The people were warned to “Reform their ways and their actions.” Jeremiah 7:3. Act justly. Stop exploiting.
Jesus could not abide injustice. He refused to stand by while people were robbed and exploited. The lesson of Jesus is that he got engaged and enraged in the face of injustice. He took action. He commands us to do the same. He commands us to
go and do likewise.