Monday of Holy Week
The church. The synagogue. The house of the Lord. A place of peace and quiet. We go there in expectation of coming into closer fellowship with God.
If it’s a Sunday morning, before the service is due to begin, we may find the opposite. The sanctuary and halls are filled with people talking, laughing, busying about, checking pigeonholes, sorting out hymnbooks, selling tickets for the next social event, folding paper orders of service. There may be children running about, enjoying the length and breadth of a badminton court.
Likewise, the outer precincts of the Jerusalem temple in Jesus’ day would have been a hive of activity. In appearance, and sound, this area would have been akin to a market: as the gospel has it, this was where money-changers and dealers of pigeons were to be found.
There was nothing wrong with this in principle. After all, didn’t Mary and Joseph purchase a couple of turtle doves or young pigeons at this very spot, when they took the infant Jesus to be presented in the temple? (Luke 2:22-24)
There is no mention at that point of exploitation, but it’s a different sort of time, isn’t it? If we were on the side of the money-changers and pigeon-sellers, we might argue that the Passover season was one of those times in the year when they could make a bit extra, to tide them over the lean times when there were no major festivals. As for parents bringing their firstborn sons, well, that could happen at any time of the year and was therefore an unpredictable market.
At the moment when the adult Jesus overturned the tables, he fulfilled the proclamation of the old prophetess Anna who came across him as a baby in the temple: “she talked about the child to all who were looking for the liberation of Jerusalem”. (Luke 2:38)
To be able to buy what we need at a fair price – fair to us and fair to all those in the supply chain – that’s a form of liberation.
It was heartening to hear on Radio 4 earlier today that an independent grocer is doing quite well at the moment. His prices are higher than the supermarkets’, but he has no hesitation in showing his own invoices to his customers, in order to prove that he is not out to exploit anyone.
Jesus’ actions as he drove out all who were buying and selling in the temple must have been both shocking and frightening to those who were directly affected, but surely this was no unfettered display of rage. Rather it was another demonstration of the Lord’s siding with those who were poor or exploited or both.