Thursday, August 02, 2007

Turning the tables

Prompted by a conversation I had in a coffee shop the other day I've been thinking about the story of Jesus getting mad with the money-changers and traders in Jerusalem's temple courts. The writers of the four gospels all give us slightly different perspectives on the event and therefore the variations in the text offer shades of meaning. But going beyond the words into a bit of architecture takes us even deeper. The key thing in this story may well be not simply what the traders were doing but where they were doing it. I don't know a lot about the Temple but I know this, the spacious outer courts were known as the 'Courts of the Gentiles' and according to the Law unless you were a full-blooded Jew you couldn't get any closer than this in your desire for connection with God. How significant then that as he violently throws over the tables Jesus shouts out the words of Isaiah 56, the classic prophecy relating to God's desire to welcome foreigners into his presence, which of course contains these wonderful words, "my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."
I've never considered before that Jesus wasn't simply embarking on some puritan vendetta against the sharks and the charlatans; he was reclaiming worship space for the foreigners, he was making a statement about the way the practices of those who are already in the in-crowd impact those who are still trying to find their way in. The anger was a venting of holy steam - God's own desperation to receive the worship of the seekers and the wanderers. The challenge to us today is are we still building temples of exclusion? Are we cluttering the outer courts, the fringe space in which those hungry to know God can come as they are without discrimination? God forgive us if we are.

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