The Wrath of Jesus

We evangelicals have tended to take a passage like Mark 11:15-19 and teach it as an example of the proper use of anger, while overlooking the whole issue of exploitation that drove Jesus to anger in the first place. Could it be because we continue to be  uncomfortable with what the gospel has to do with social issues? Certainly there were strong prophetic overtones to Jesus’ action (Isa. 56:7; Jer. 7:11; Malachi 3:1, 2) as he headed toward the destiny of the cross. However, we cannot side-step the issue of injustice that Jesus was addressing. Every Jew had to pay a temple tax of one half-shekel every year which was equivalent to a little less than two days wages (lets say about $70). However, the religious leaders who ran the temple mandated that it be paid in Jewish currency; not Roman, Greek, Syrian, and so forth. Thus if you came to Jerusalem for Passover from another country, you had to exchange your currency for the shekel which would cost you another 30% on top of the tax. In addition, you would need to purchase a dove or two for sacrifice and these could be purchased cheaply outside the temple. However, the priests who inspected these doves would always find some kind of blemish so that you would have to buy an “approved” dove from the temple merchants. The cost of these doves were jacked up 25 times their normal price. So, you as a poor humble pilgrim traveling a great distance to worship God were being swindled out of money you did not have, almost like being robbed by thieves along the Jericho road. There is one more thing- Mark writes in 11:16, “and he (Jesus) would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” It would seem that the temple had become so lightly regarded by the Jews that they actually used it as a short-cut on their way to do business. The Mishnah stated, “A man shall not enter the temple mount with his staff or his sandal or his wallet, or with dust upon his feet, nor may he make of it a short by-path.”  All of this ticked Jesus off; the disregard for God’s house as a house of prayer, and the exploitation of those who had come from afar to worship. Jesus’ intervention was temporary but it was also symbolic of the new way that he would open up through his death and resurrection. It would be a new way of worship, not of ceremony and sacrifice but in spirit and truth. It would also be a new way for such worshippers to live (and to do business); not by exploitation and greed, but with honesty and generosity.

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