(During Holy Week in the Philippines, things usually grind to a halt — but sadly, not because of spiritual matters. “Holy Week” in this country is no longer synonymous with pausing, quietness, and meditation. It has become one of the most anticipated times because everyone has the time to get out of town and go to the beach. In an effort to create some space for meditation, I usually write down my thoughts during these days, and I hope it will help you move into a more meditative approach to this week.)
One of the things that Jesus brought with his message of “the kingdom” was a totally different — and radical — approach to worship and prayer. Kingdom citizens were to prioritize their walk with God, following and obeying his commands and devoting themselves to lives of worship.
So when he entered the temple and saw all the business that happened there, we know that there was only one thing that was going to happen. At the very least, Jesus was always going to say something about the moneychangers, the selling of animals for sin and guilt offerings, and all the other things that the Jews saw as a necessary addition to their temple worship. But if you read closely, the magnitude of Jesus’s response was a bit surprising, and it tells us a lot about his priorities.
If you think about it, we ourselves might even find these things necessary. Visitors from other countries and regions would want to change their currencies so that they might be able to give their temple offerings, so one could argue that the moneychangers were convenient to have, if not essential. And people were always going to need animals for their sacrifices, and it would be a pity if they didn’t bring one with them. One could argue that the animal sellers made sacrifices at the temple convenient, and one could say, they made it possible for everyone to participate in temple proceedings.
So what was Jesus so angry about?
Entering Jerusalem as the spiritual king of his people, Jesus was serious about worship and prayer, as these were the things that his followers were supposed to be doing a lot. Ever wonder why we make such a big deal about coming to church on Sundays? This is why.
But Jesus would not accept the token ritualism that the Jews were doing — making offerings not because they wanted to honor God but because they had to do these things as required rituals, resulting in superficial —and honestly speaking, fake worship.
Add to all of this the unacceptable marketplace that the temple has become, with all the money, the hustle and bustle of the businesses, it was all too much for Jesus. Driving out those who were there not for worship but for business and overturning the tables of those moneychangers and sellers of animals who grew rich by charging the poor more than the actual cost was the least that Jesus could do. The temple — and more to the fact, the worship of God — was being defiled.
Christians should equally be disturbed if the worship in our churches has become superficial, fake, and focused on making money.
Worship should never become superficial and fake, where the people do it because it is required. Rather, Christians should want to worship because it is their proper response to how gracious God has been to us.
And the last thing worship in our churches should ever be, is to be about money and getting rich. Worship and getting rich through the money that worshippers give are never going to be compatible. It is abhorrent to the sight of God. If you begin to hear anything from the pulpits of your churches about getting rich, you should immediately be on guard. If ALL you hear from the pulpits of your church is about making money, then you definitely have to consider telling the leaders about it, and even leaving the church.
It is God who prescribes how we should enter his presence to worship him. It is only through humility, repentance, and faith in what Jesus has done on the cross that we are able to worship God properly.