But I found thieves and salesmenReflecting on Matthew 21:12-17, the story of Jesus turning over tables in the Temple. The text I'm reading this morning has Jesus saying: "The Scriptures say, `My house should be called a place of worship.' But you have turned it into a place where robbers hide."
Living in my father's house
I know how they got in here
and I know how to get them out
I’m turning this place over
From floor to balcony
and then just like these doves and sheep
Oh, you will be set free
-- Derek Webb, "Lover"
I've generally read this as a critique of practices of buying and selling in sacred space. This has been shaped in part by our Lutheran aversion to "fundraising," and by the experience that this text is usually quoted in meetings to oppose new ways of funding or providing programs.
I think Jesus here is not talking about the moneychangers and sellers per se. Yes, there is usually some dishonesty inherent in this type of system. Exchanging currencies involves a fee that can be extreme, and any time one has to buy from a "single source" -- like the official sellers of doves -- it gets expensive. But I think the "robbers" are those who set up a system where pilgrims are required to go through such hoops to get what is free -- God's love and mercy.
The meditation on rejesus.co.uk today says that a service to help foreigners had become "a business enterprise." I think that's key -- this system creates hoops for "outsiders" to help them become "insiders," and Jesus has been clear that outsiders are insiders already. It goes on to say, "This isn't the first time that holy places had lost their heart and soul, and it wouldn't be the last." As wrong as the sellers' opportunism is, the loss of heart and soul is deeper, in the system and leaders that are setting themselves up as gatekeepers to God's kingdom and being arrogant enough to believe they can sell what God has already given.
This isn't a sign of some singluar, stunning evil. I can find my thoughts straying this way as a natural by-product of being in leadership. Even as we have allowed cookie and candle sales to help fund programs, the Church finds many ways to draw dividing lines and create hoops for "outsiders" to jump through. Those hoops can be liturgies or inward focus or doctrines that seem as natural to us as the tables of caged birds and foreign exchange market seemed to the Jews entering the Temple. What are the things that turn us into robbers, charging others (and ourselves) for what has already been given free?
I need to keep working at seeing this gift, which Derek beautifully describes in the last verse of his song:
I am my beloved’s
and my beloved’s mine
So you bring all your history
I’ll bring the bread and wine
and we'll have us a party
Where all drinks are on me
Because as surely as the rising sun
Oh, you will be set free