Mama Bear's Rage
When my girls were young, I enjoyed reading children's books to them. I had two favorite series--Dr Seuss and the Berenstain Bears. I believe that these times of reading out loud helped the girls learn grammar and made me a better preacher. One of the books that I particularly enjoyed was The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. The story begins by telling the reader that the Bear family lived in a very orderly and neat home. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place. The entire family contributed to maintaining a neat and clean little tree house. Every room was a picture of orderliness except one room. Brother and Sister Bear's room. “It was a mess.” Jigsaw puzzles gather dust in a corner. Stuffed animals were everywhere and the closet was so full of toys that they could barely close the door.
Brother's and Sister's room was not messy because they did not try to keep their room straight. They made their beds, most of the time. They would pick up, occasionally but the mess just seemed to build up until one day something happened. Perhaps it was the airplane cement on the floor, perhaps it was the clothes strewn all over the house, perhaps Mama's back was a little stiff, but whatever it was, Mama lost her temper and stormed into the cubs room with a big box to get rid of all the junk. Mama Bear started cleaning that messy room by throwing everything away.
I think that Mama Bear would have understood Jesus' frustration the day that he walked into the Temple. Animals would have been everywhere—lambs, pigeons, goats, cattle. Tables piled with money of various currency. People arguing over prices. A Temple is not a marketplace. The Temple had been built to serve as a house of prayer. How could you pray standing next to a pile of bull dung?
We do not know exactly how many times, Jesus saw this scene. Maybe as a small child he overheard Joseph complaining about the cost of purchasing animals in that market. Maybe Jesus traveled with his mother Mary to Jerusalem after Joseph had died and was himself a victim of the price gouging. His decision to cleanse the Temple may have been a premeditated act that had been brewing in his thoughts since he first saw the unholy blight in his Father's house as a child. He may have intentionally traveled to the Holy City for one purpose. It could have also been a spontaneous response to the corruption. However he formed his thoughts, his actions would have created a mass riot as money, animals and men were driven in every directions.
Scholars have long debated if Jesus cleansed the Temple at the beginning or the end of his public ministry or if he did twice. Every argument has valid reasons both for and against. Once again, we do not know for certain, although I believe the incident happened twice. I believe that he was able to get away with it because he was a relatively unknown person. The common people would have enjoyed seeing the power elite get their “come-uppance”. The stories that would have circulated around the camp fires and inns would have long been remembered. They would have thought that he was a hero and they would have protected him from the Temple solders. John tells us that Jesus also performed many miracles while he was in Jerusalem. Why would the common people allow this wonder to be arrest if they could protect him? If Osama Bin Laden can evade capture in an age of spy satellites, advanced electronic listening devices attached to airplane drones, and a $25 million reward ,surely Jesus could have avoided public arrest. If Jesus had cleansed the Temple not once but twice, it reinforce the notion that God has a rough edge.
We tend not to think of God as a mad man running through the market place with a whip in his hand. I do not remember seeing any pictures of that in the Christian Family Bookstore or at Cokesberry. We prefer to see Jesus sitting meekly with a child in his lap, gently stroking their hair and quietly telling them stories. But what if the Son of God raised his voice? What if that little tiny baby that fed at Mary's breast, one day really got mad? Why would that surprise you?
Our refusal to see the rough edge of Jesus says more about us than God. Jesus frequently expressed his feelings of frustration toward the religious establishment and even his disciples. One Sabbath morning, he saw a man with a shriveled hand in a synagogue while he was teaching. He asked the people if the law allowed him to do good on the Sabbath. The people refused to answer him. Mark tells usspecifically that Jesus got angry. His parables often contain masters who are very angry at the actions of their servants and inflict severe punishment. Was this hyperbole or was Jesus revealing a harsh side of God?
Before I am accused of preaching fire and brimstone, let's consider the source of Jesus' anger. This requires that we understand the rituals of the Jewish faith and the business of the Temple. The good Jew was required to come to Jerusalem at least three times a year to offer a sacrifice during festival of Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Each feast was connected to the Exodus from Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land. They first celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses in the desert and the third celebrated the gracious provisions, shelter and protection God provided while the people wandered in the desert.
Distance could not be used as an excuse. The pious Jew was still obligated to make the long pilgrimage from whatever foreign land in which he lived. During these occasions the population of the city of Jerusalem swelled. Under such conditions, the law of supply and demand created grossly inflated prices for the animals.
Another act of profiteering occurred even before the animal was purchased. Having come from a foreign country with a different currency, the pilgrims had to exchange their money for the Jewish coinage. Once again, it was a seller's market and the pilgrim suffered a financial loss.
To compound the situation, this was not a free market economy. Prices were very much controlled. Each vendor had to pay a fee for his business license. Each purchase, every transaction carried a commission. Who profited, not a merchant but the religious leaders, the Sadducees. They controlled the purse strings of the Temple. They enjoyed a financial windfall from the religious devotion of God's people.
I believe that Jesus was upset for several reasons.
The sacred had been profaned by the secular.
The sacred had been profaned by the superficial.
The sacred had been profaned by the exclusion of some.
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