Monday in Holy Week: A Reflection

Shortly after Mark’s account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, setting up the inevitable conflict with the religious and political authorities of his day, we have the story of him “turning the tables” on the money changers in the temple (Mark 11:12-25). This event has often been interpreted as having something to do with commerce being carried on in this sacred place. But there is something far more important going on than that.

The “money changers” and “those who sold doves” were not the primary targets of Jesus’ anger here. They were actually providing a service to the people because pilgrims to Jerusalem needed someone to exchange currency for them and, because it was impractical to transport animals for the temple sacrifices across the many miles of their journeys, they needed someone to provide what these devout folks needed to perform their religious duties.

Jesus was not exactly a fan of the sacrificial system, but this was not the “ditch he was prepared to die in.” On occasion he even told those whose healing he had facilitated to show themselves to the priests and make the appropriate sacrifice in thanksgiving for their healing.

The key to what Jesus was really on about has to do with the famous line, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Think about it: a den of robbers is not where the primary transgressions are carried out. A den is where robbers might retreat to find safety (a “safe house” if you will) after they had done their dirty deeds elsewhere.

Jesus knew that the religious establishment of his day had been co-opted by the occupying Roman government and, in addition to the exorbitant taxation laid upon the people by the Romans, were taking advantage of their own people by requiring “tithes and offerings” the average peasant (who were Jesus’ primary followers) could hardly afford.

In fact, one reading of the story of the “widow’s mite” was not that she was being commended for “giving her last penny, all she had” but that Jesus was warning people that, while the rich folks could easily afford to give the great sums required by the chief priests, they — like the widow — must beware of the religious authorities’ tendency to take them for all they were worth!

So, Jesus was not really after the bottom-feeding money changers and dove peddlers in the temple, but the chief priests and levites who took advantage of the people six days a week and then retreat into their sanctuaries, their “den” on the high holy days.

Sound familiar?








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