A few days before Christmas, “[Pope] Francis issued a blistering indictment of the Vatican bureaucracy Monday, accusing the cardinals, bishops and priests who serve him of using their Vatican careers to grab power and wealth, of living “hypocritical” double lives and forgetting that they’re supposed to be joyful men of God.“ “Vatican watchers said they had never heard such a powerful, violent speech from a pope…” (excerpts from Associated Press – 12/22/14)
The top leaders of the Roman Catholic church must have been pretty shocked. What they expected to hear were some mild, innocuous, typical Christmas greetings. But WHAM! Stay tuned for how this plays out; it’s going to be very interesting.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem, receiving enthusiastic cheers and cries from a gathering crowd, most of whom expected Him to go into the city and begin setting up a kingdom in opposition to the Romans. Those nasty, pagan, oppressive Romans were about to get their just desserts; Israel would become free at last. But not so fast… When Jesus entered the city, He turned against His own people, the leaders and bureaucrats in the Temple, not the Romans.
” Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “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 21:12-13)
The buying and selling at the Temple had gradually been put in place as a matter of convenience for traveling pilgrims. Instead of bringing their livestock for the sacrifice, they could purchase an appropriate animal. If they did not have the right currency for the Temple offering, they could exchange what they had when they got there. All of this sounds reasonable, as does the need for those providing the service to make a profit. So what was Jesus so worked up over?
There were a lot of problems represented there, including a form of racism. But, the main problem was that the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer (“for all nations,” according to this quote from Isaiah). Not commerce. Even so-called “religious” commerce transforms the mysterious and powerful process of communicating with God into a business transaction. It is true that the “robbers” were charging exorbitant rates. But the main problem was exchanging what was supposed to be a humble, personal interaction with God for an impersonal ritual involving money.
It’s as though the Temple leaders were encouraging the people to relate to God by saying, “Here, God, here’s a couple of bucks; go buy yourself something nice.” Instead of reaching out to Him in heartfelt prayer. Do we make the same mistake today? To often, I think. No doubt that’s part of what had the Pope so upset, too.