Cleansing the Temple
Open Your Bible
Mark 11:12-19, Isaiah 56:1-8
My sisters and I often laugh over a childhood memory: the time a church member, Sister Ruby Jean, caught us playing a game of spades in the church sanctuary. We girls waited for hours while our parents attended what seemed like the longest meeting. Boredom drove us to the only padded floor in the building. What a sight we must have been. Four adolescent girls sitting in various positions on the sanctuary’s muted red carpet, with small piles of already played cards scattered among us. Unplayed cards fanned out in our hands as we talked smack (a time-honored spades tradition) over who would win the current round.
Sister Ruby Jean’s gasp of shock interrupted our fun. Seconds of silence gave way to stutters and sputters. “What are y’all doing?…I can’t believe this…I have to tell your parents about this…This is God’s house.” In our minds, we were just playing cards in the only available spot in the building. From Ruby Jean’s perspective, we’d pretty much transformed God’s house into a Vegas cardroom.
Today’s reading doesn’t involve cushioned floors or a standard 52-card deck, but it does involve a misuse of sacred space. Just days before Jesus’s crucifixion, He halted commercial activity in the temple, rebuking those involved. There’s lots of disagreement regarding the motivation behind Jesus’s actions, but His own words give a clue.
“My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” —Mark 11:17
It’s generally agreed that this narrative took place in the temple area known as the Court of the Gentiles. Jesus’s expulsion of seller and buyer had much to do with where they were conducting their business. The temple was regarded as the central meeting place between God and humanity. But the one place where even Gentiles were allowed to worship had been transformed into a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). The activity of the market was taking precedence over the area being a space of worship for non-Jews.
After reading this passage again, I’ve realized that I can spend so much time marveling at Jesus’s righteous indignation or spend hours scouring commentaries to get all of the details just right. But in doing so I can easily overlook the message underlying Jesus’s behavior.
Jesus’s actions and words reveal God’s desire for all people to enjoy His presence. If I move beyond just associating this passage with anger, even justifiable, I find a beautiful display of love. This divine love is from a God who has such a heart for people from all nations to know Him that He is moved to action when anything blocks their access to Him. How very true to the gospel of Jesus.
In a few days, the Lenten season will peak with the celebration of Jesus’s great act of love expressed through His death. The temple narrative reminds me that His life is also a testimony of His love. Today, let’s take a moment to celebrate that truth.