Sermons 2009
Out with the money changers! Lent 3B, 15 March 2009, John 2: 13-22

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Lent 3B 2009                                                        John 2: 13-22


Money changers have been much in the news in recent years, so much so that we can hardly escape being buffeted by the daily news broadcasts and newspapers.  From Enron to Lehman Brothers and Bernie Madoff and all too many mortgage companies we find ourselves wondering what is going on; what is happening to us and the financial and banking systems not only of this country but of the entire world. 


I am told that our local banks, who did not participate in subprime and other questionable mortgage and loan practices, are sound and we need not worry.  I pray that that is true.  We had more than enough poor people to care for before the current economic crisis and their numbers are growing day by day.  Local bank failures would be almost catastrophic for many as what little credit that is available dries up.


I suppose that it’s only human nature that when money changes hands the potential for wrongdoing is great.  As wily old Saint Paul wrote his young friend Timothy:  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Tim 6:10)  The more things change….


It is interesting that commentators who survived the Great Depression that began in 1929 are harsher on the Temple money changers than are those whose cognizant roots are in the prosperity following World War II.  In any case there is some evidence that that corruption was present on many levels in the Temple system that Jesus cleansed. 


That which first assaulted the senses at the Temple were the many animal smells defiling the outer court of the holiest place in Israel.  Not only the smell of hides and feathers, but the reek of animal droppings from fowl and goats and sheep: excrement littering the ground to be tracked easily into the precincts of the Temple proper.  Like the Sunday morning I had to clean up the brick walk to the breezeway steps because of the piles left by the two little Chihuahuas next door.


And then there were the money changers.  The great Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple observed that Jesus sees is that the “place which should be ordered with the reverence appropriate to the dwelling-place of God is cluttered up with worldly ambitions, anxieties about our possessions, designs to get the better of our neighbors.  This traffic of the Temple courts was more than a profanity against the holy place; it was an exploitation of the people.  The High Priests insisted that the Temple dues should be paid in Jewish coins – not Roman coins stamped with the image of a heathen emperor.  And they provided an exchange – at which a large percentage was deducted.  Also they arranged for the convenience of worshippers, and incidentally for their own large profit, to sell the animals needed or sacrifice.   (1)


            Said a 21st Century commentator:  It is hard for us to imagine such a thing. I guess it would be like having a Bible salesman in the narthex every Sunday or maybe having an Automatic Teller Machine at the end of each pew.  Whatever the modern equivalent, the idea is that Jesus saw the commercialization of the sacred, the profaning of the holy by the presence of these beasts.  And so he got mad and cleansed the Temple of them.” (2)


It may seem that the Madoffs and Lehmann Brothers and Enrons of the world are far from us.  Certainly on one scale they are.  But on a smaller scale we have moneychangers right here in our midst.  There is a loan shark who lives within three miles of this church, and who preys on the African-American community mostly.  And in Kilmarnock, the town council approved a permit for a moneychanger.  Known as Advance America, it has set up between the Dollar Tree and WalMart.  What irony!


Just this week a case came to my attention of a poor woman who needed 525 dollars for security deposit and another 525 dollars for the first months rent to move into a house with her three small children.  I paid for the first month’s rent from discretionary alms.  She had 225 dollars but she had already gone to Advance America to borrow the 300 dollar difference.  The cost of that loan each month is 73 dollars.  To repay the loan the day after would require 373 dollars.  At the end of one year she would owe 1176 dollars, at the end of two years 2052 dollars.  If she could repay the loan she wouldn’t have needed it in the first place.  Before the month is out, either I or the Rector of Saint Mary’s Whitechapel will see that the loan is repaid – alas, to the excess profit of the money changer.


And you think Jesus was mad at the scene in the Temple?  Wonder what he would do about this.




1.  William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, Morehouse-Barlowe, paperback reprint, 1985, pp. 38-39

2.  Donald M. Tuttle, What Would Jesus Do? Confront Injustice - John 2:13-22, Lectionary Homiletics, for Lent 3B