Monday, August 20, 2007

Challenging the Temple

NOTE: I leave tomorrow for California to officiate at my nephew's wedding. I won't be able to post Morning Reflections until Tuesday, August 28.

Monday, August 20, 2007 -- Week of Proper 15
(Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, 1157)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from (go to St. Paul's Home Page and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 980)
Psalms 106:1-18 (morning) 106:19-48 (evening)
2 Samuel 17:24 - 18:8
Acts 22:30 - 23:11
Mark 11:12-26

The Jerusalem Temple was a center of religious and economic power. The Temple held a religious monopoly over forgiveness for sins. Sacrifice was necessary for the remission of sins, and the Temple was the sole authorized place of sacrifice. Inspectors insured that the animals offered were without blemish, and if a worshiper brought an animal deemed to be flawed, unblemished animals were available for sale. For a peasant whose animal raised at home did not pass the inspection, it was a grave hardship to have to produce currency to buy an animal at the premium prices of the Temple.

The Temple also made a profit on the exchange of currency. Roman coinage bearing the image of the Emperor was not allowed inside the Temple. So, in the Court of the Gentiles the Temple set up a currency exchange for the offerings of the devout. The money changers also converted coinage for paying the annual Temple Tax, required of all Jews in or outside Israel. They charged a fixed fee for their services. It added up to a lot of money.

Each of these exchanges were costly, especially to the peasants for whom such extra expenses were particularly burdensome in their subsistence poverty. Just like the sales tax is more burdensome for the poor than for the rich, these charges were disproportionately hard for the poor.

Jesus' attack on the economy of the Temple is a profound act. Practically it is insignificant. Within the hour following his overturning their tables they would be back in business. Barely a blip on the bottom line. But symbolically it is significant. Jesus accuses the Temple authorities of injustice. "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers."

But it is the last verse in this passage that is the truly significant challenge to the Temple. "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses." This is a radical statement. With this statement, and other similar sayings, Jesus challenges the Temple monopoly on forgiveness.

Jesus caused scandal on several occasions by pronouncing to various people, "Your sins are forgiven you." Such a statement was blasphemy, according to the conventional interpretation. Only God can forgive sins. And the prescribed way to have one's sins forgiven was through the Temple. The Temple had a monopoly on forgiveness. And the Temple made money at each step of the forgiveness process.

When Jesus declared free forgiveness without recourse to the Temple, he not only opened up God's mercy to God's people, he also challenge a powerful economic interest. No wonder they wanted him dead. If people were able to receive God's forgiveness freely, the Temple and the powerful people who administer it would lose vast revenue. It was about money. He needed killing.



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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


At 1:49 PM, Blogger Telmeimrong said...

Does this apply universally?
It seems that is you didn't forgive, it wouldn't be all that bad. Maybe the church could get together and decide that Jesus was only partially serious about forgiveness.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

That last statement by telmeimrong leaves me confused. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Telmeimrong said...

I was trying to be sarcastic. Lowell has this strong tendency to pick the verses he like and explain how important they are, and explain how much better the church's rules are than Jesus'.


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