Third Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by John 2:13-22 

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” John 2:13-15 (NRSV) 

Have you ever arrived at church, looking forward to worship, only to be confronted by requests for money to support this or that cause or ministry? Perhaps it was the youth group selling Christmas wreaths to raise money for their mission trip, or advertisements to purchase the latest book by the pastor or CD by the praise band, both conveniently available in the church bookstore. Even though the mission trip is a valid ministry, and both the book and the CD are probably helpful in proclaiming the gospel, by the time you sit down for worship you’re thinking about commerce rather than God.

In Jesus’ day it was expected for Jews from all over to travel to Jerusalem for Passover. It was also expected (biblically mandated) that ritual sacrifices would be made as part of the Passover observance. Of course, people traveling from great distances would have found it difficult to bring the animals they were to sacrifice along with them, so they would have needed to purchase them in Jerusalem. The money changers provided the valuable service of converting the travelers’ foreign currency into local currency, which they could then use to purchase the cattle, sheep, and doves necessary for their expected ritual sacrifices. With all of that available right there in the temple, the travelers were better able to focus on their Passover observance.

At least, that’s probably how the logic went. Except Jesus didn’t see it that way. He forcibly drove the animals, those selling them, and the money changers out of the temple. While he didn’t condemn them for what they were doing, he did condemn them for where they were doing it. A house of worship is a place to worship. Whatever commercial transactions might be helpful or even necessary for making that worship possible must be done at another time in another place. Does that make things a little more complicated? Possibly. But approaching the Lord God in prayer and devotion is not complicated, and shouldn’t be made so by the presence of financial expectations standing between the worshiper and the place of worship.

Let us pray. Holy Lord, you desire worship and not sacrifices. Help us to keep our worship of you unencumbered by logistical considerations, that none may ever believe that access to you is for sale. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.