Jesus’ first act after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was to clear the temple. Whether this occurred on the same day as hinted at by Matthew, Luke, or the next day as specified by Mark, or earlier in His ministry as John records doesn’t really matter. What does matter is what Jesus did, why He did it, and what that means to us? Mark records it this way, “Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.” The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.” (Mark 11:15–18, NASB95)
What was intended to enable worship became big business. Not only were sacrificial animals offered for sale, but currency from around the Roman world was also converted to temple coinage. But the process had become corrupt. Greed and profit replacing the sacrificial nature of temple worship. The temple had become a place of commerce instead of maintaining its role as a place of prayer, the place to freely meet with God no matter your station in life.
Jesus upset their program. He drove out the money changers and sought to remind the people and the leaders why the temple existed in the first place. A lot of folks see similarities with today. The merchandising of Jesus in the form of t-shirts, books, music, movies, and trinkets. Looking at recent revelations it’s easy to wonder if preachers, musicians, and writers really love Jesus or are just in it for the money, fame, or power. We can also wonder about churches and denominations that seem more concerned with their name and reputation than with the gospel.
The larger message of Jesus’ clearing of the temple is not whether a church should have a bookstore, or whether worship music should make a profit like other music. The larger message is the merchandising of our own heart. Our hearts are also to be a house of prayer. They are the habitation of God just like the Jerusalem Temple. But, instead of fulfilling its purpose as our connecting place with God we turn it into a marketplace. The merchandise of the heart is not sheep and doves; the coinage is not made of gold and silver. The merchandise of the heart is love.
Our hearts become a marketplace when we keep accounts of wrongs suffered. When we only love those that love us the way we want. When we only receive love on our own terms. When we barter with love to get our way. Love becomes a business relationship where profit and loss are calculated. We are instead to be open-hearted, freely giving and receiving love in the same way that Jesus demonstrated His own love for us. Yes, it often seems like a losing proposition; like we are giving out more than we receive, yet we never run out of love. Jesus taught, “ But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:35–38, NASB95)
Shred the account books of love. Endeavor to freely give and freely receive without counting inventory or worrying if you will have enough love to go around. Make your heart a place of prayer, where you commune with God and lift up those that need His love today. And if you don’t? Jesus may just show up one day to turn over your tables and expel your greed.