Making Money from 'Faith'
The feasts of Israel involved lots of sacrifices and lots of eating. Therefore, many animals were traded to supply the market need. Instead of people bringing their own livestock from their homes, up to hundreds of miles away, it was practical and convenient to buy the animals in Jerusalem, even if the price was higher. As the sacrificial animals were traded in the Court of the Gentiles in the temple, they could not be purchased with ordinary Roman money, but special Tyrian pure silver coinage minted in Israel. The money exchange commission rates were very high, making much profit for the money changers, and the purchase price of the animals was also high, making a large profit for the livestock traders.
Commercialisation took over the temple; ‘worship’ was good business, and the pilgrim trade became the major source of revenue of the city. But Jesus was very angry that His Father’s house, dedicated to praise and worship of the God who freely gives everything, should be cheapened as a profit centre for sharp eyed market traders. Of course, there is nothing wrong in trading, or making a reasonable profit, but the Bible speaks clearly against exploitation and of using what is dedicated to God for personal gain (Ezekiel 28:18). Jesus was indignant that God-worship had been replaced by money-worship and He demonstrated God’s wrath because their trade and worship were both corrupt.
Of the 7 feasts of Israel in Leviticus ch. 23, all able-bodied Jewish men were expected to go to Jerusalem for the three great feasts - Passover, First-fruits and Pentecost. During Jesus’ ministry, He went to celebrate the Passover on three occasions. Today’s verses refer to the first. The second is referred to in John 6:4. It was during the third Passover visit (John 18:28) that Jesus Himself became the sacrificial Lamb to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). In that week before Jesus was crucified, He went again into the temple and overturned the money-changers desks saying, “It is written,” he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers’.” (Matthew 21:13). His passion for the purity of worship in God’s house made a deep impression on the disciples (Psalm 69:9).
Greed of all kinds, especially for money, is part of our sinful nature. It is not holy, and its wickedness is most clear when sacred things are used to make money. The gospel of God’s grace is all about giving. We can never repay His kindness, and we are commanded to give freely (Matthew 10:8). Yet in some places, the church makes a comfortable living on charging for goods or services. The question is, ‘Is it right?’ or ‘Would Jesus agree?’ If business takes priority over worship and service, something is wrong. When churches invent yet another way to make money out of those who come seeking spiritual guidance, are their priorities right? Yes, these are hard times economically, but this violent act by Jesus should teach us that God cannot tolerate money-motivated hypocrisy which defaces the gospel.
© Dr Paul Adams