‘When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’[c];but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ [Luke 19:45-46]
If I’m honest I’ve always been a bit confused about why Jesus got so frustrated about the traders in the temple court at this particular time. Surely he’d seen this going on in the temple before? And what on earth has this incident got to say to us during Holy Week?
I’m sure there are lots of good answers to those questions, but the one that struck me, probably because of the emails of Covid-19 encouragement we’ve been receiving from our global partners, is connected to:
The scripture that Jesus quotes
The significance of the area of the temple he cleared
When Jesus tells the traders why he is driving them out, one of the Scriptures he quotes is Isaiah 56:7...
“Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
‘Their’ burnt offerings refer not to those of God’s chosen people Israel – but the offerings of foreigners and eunuchs - the marginalised people of the day. Isaiah 56 is a prophetic passage pointing to a time when those on the outside will be welcomed in.
And here is Jesus turning over tables and quoting this passage in the ‘temple area’ otherwise known as the Gentile Court. This was the part of the temple where you could come if you were not Jewish; it was here that you could seek God if you were on the margins of religious society.
When Jesus entered the temple that day he knew he was on his way to the cross. Yet here was the ‘entrance for the outsiders’ blocked by overpriced sacrifices, and market madness. Jesus had to clear the way.
Why do we read this passage at the beginning of Holy Week? Because the message of the turned tables and the prophecy of Isaiah 56 were about to be fulfilled; the ‘once and for all’ sacrifice of Jesus would throw open the doors to the outsiders, the marginalised, the unacceptable.
We see this manifested when we stand with the global Church and they stand with us: God’s House really is now a House of Prayer for all nations. And there is plenty to learn from the Church of the nations, who have walked this way of crisis before and continue in outreach and ministry.
There's a lesson for us here from Jesus’ turning of the tables and from the witness and experience of the global Church. Instead of battening down the hatches, perhaps our response to Covid-19 might be to clear a space for the outsider in our lives or even in our churches? And perhaps we can do this better because of the reminder from this passage that we are the foreigners that Jesus turned those tables for.
Salvation and relationship with God may have been the birth right of the people of Israel, but it could never have been ours if Jesus had not upturned the tables; not only in the court of the Gentiles that day, but forever by his all sufficient sacrifice on Good Friday.
[The image shows Mama Mbambu in DR Congo with one of the older children whom she welcomed in to her sizeable family at the Children In Distress Centre in Butembo. A true example of clearing the way and welcoming-in the outsider.]
This blog is part of our special 'Voices Of Hope' series - as we seek to provide stories of light during this time of uncertainty and upheaval.