Matthew 21: 2-14
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.
Monday of what we we’ve come to call Holy Week and Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. And he’s not happy. This is not a happy reading. We see anger and fear and upset. Upset tables. Upset people.
Each day this week, I’ll be giving just a short reflection on the events of Holy Week, and using them to help us think about the events around us in the world right now, about our reactions, good and bad, to this pandemic, and asking where we might find God in it all.
At the beginning of this pandemic, the news was awash with stories of panic buying, of appalling behaviour in supermarkets and people rushing to stockpile food and toiletries. The humble toilet roll has never been so exalted or so expensive. I heard one story of a local butcher shop charging exorbitant amounts for loo roll, something it wouldn’t even normally stock. It’s easy to judge such bad behaviour. But all of us, sometimes, surely, behave badly. And often as not that bad behaviour comes from fear or anxiety. Shoppers fearing that they’ll be trapped at home with no food or supplies. Traders fearing for their livelihoods, tempted to exploit the fear of others. Fear can make us behave in ways we wouldn’t normally do. Fear can bring out the worst in us.
People are coming to the temple to offer sacrifices to God, so that their sins might be forgiven. It’s an ancient and symbolic system of ritual repentance, through which the people are assured of God’s grace and mercy. The traders are there to help. To provide the doves needed for sacrifice, to exchange foreign currency.
But Jesus’ reaction to this trading indicates that somehow something about it has gone wrong. That things have got out of hand. That somehow the shopping has become more dominant that the sacrificing.
I’m guessing there’s quite a lot of anxiety at play. People have travelled a long way to be here. They are probably tired and hungry, and its hot and crowded. They want to make sure that now they’re here, they get things right, that they have the right money, that they buy the right doves, that their sacrifice works, that their sins will be forgiven. And some of the traders in the temple are no doubt playing on that fear.
Jesus came into the temple and demanded an end to trading fuelled by fear and exploitation. Shopping cannot quell your fears. Buying the right pair of doves, or a large enough packet of toilet roll will not bring you peace. Only an encounter with God can do that. And as if to prove the point, Jesus then heals the blind and the lame that he finds in the temple, restores to fullness of life the very people who could barely afford to buy anything.
We are living right now, in a time of unprecedented anxiety. And when we’re tempted to give in to our fear, the only place to turn is to Jesus. He is the source of healing. He is the one who stills the storms in our souls and brings us peace.
Let’s just pause a moment, and breathe in the Spirit of God, breathe in the Spirit of the one who says to us ‘Do not be afraid’.
I’d like to finish with words from the hymn ‘Be Still my Soul’.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
to guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice, who ruled them while He dwelt below.