90% of the commerce in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was the buying and selling of animals to be killed for sacrifice. The blood flowed as the priests slit the throats of defenseless animals to appease God. A priest in the temple was basically a butcher.
People did not believe that God could naturally love them. Folks were stuck in the guilt of their sins. They broke the Commandments left and right and could not accept that God would forgive. Therefore, the only way to keep God’s wrath from sticking was to sacrifice the best animals. When Jesus came into the temple, He was furious! “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” We are all resistant to change, especially in religious matters. Move one cup, one purificator, change a word in the prayer and it takes us about 5 years to adjust. Imagine the drastic change that Jesus brought. He overturned the tables. And He told them, “This temple is going to fall.” “Impossible”, they responded. As we know, the temple did fall, Judaism changed, and there is no longer the sacrifice of animals. But all of that is outward change. Many remain locked in the old ways of thinking. Some people still think that God is out to get them. They keep their distance. Folks can become scrupulous, making sure they get the right words, do the right things, visit holy places. There’s nothing wrong with prayers, novenas, and holy places—as long as we are not doing them out of fear. We are not suppose to do good things to keep God happy, but because we love Him. We need to be convinced that He loves us. That’s where the majority of us get into trouble. We begin to doubt the love of God.
We are more disposed to hearing stories about hell fire than we are about the salvation of Christ. Jesus not only turned the money tables upside down, He turned religion upside down. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Want to be the best—be the servant—get to the back of the line. Sinners and prostitutes will lead the way to heaven.” Much of what Jesus said got Him into a lot of trouble. We like to earn, we like to deserve—to feel justified by the works we do. Meanwhile, Jesus went around touching the untouchable. He associated with the ones who did not deserve His company. Jesus defiled Himself by speaking with notorious sinners. He ate with them, touched them, kissed them. We can picture the authorities at a distance, scandalized, but keeping track.
The devil is also the one who keeps track of our sins, not God. Interesting to see people who bring a list of their sins to confession. You know who else has a copy of the list, a longer one in fact? You know who will use the list against us?—the devil. “But I just don’t want to forget.” Best if we do forget. God has already forgiven even before we ask. Only when we approach with childlike confidence we can enter the narrow gate. Pride will not allow us to fit because our inflated ego will get in the way. The majority of people in the temple were not willing to listen to Jesus. They did not want change. They were insulted that He told them that they were wrong. Are we willing to change? Are we willing to admit that there is room for improvement in our life? Lent is a time to surrender, a time to trust. Not so much a time to do more stuff in order to get God to love us because He already loves us. Lent is a time to remember who we are—the people that He came to save.
The debt for our sins has been paid. All we have to do is accept the message of freedom.