Vice President Mike Pence said last night, “We are beginning to see the glimmers of progress” in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the US and around the world. I watched the press conference and was also encouraged by Dr. Deborah Birx, the US coronavirus coordinator. She reported on hopeful signs from Spain and Italy, “where we see, finally, new cases and deaths declining.” As she said, “It’s giving us hope of what our future could be.”
All this because more people than ever are practicing social distancing. However, stay-at-home orders are also affecting many people in damaging ways. Some cities in China are reporting record-high divorce rates after stay-at-home orders were lifted. Pornography consumption rates in the US are up. Isolation is challenging those in recovery from other addictions as well.
This Holy Week, we will focus each day on what Jesus did that day on his way to Calvary and the resurrection. What does Holy Monday say to us as we are socially distancing on a level unprecedented in our lifetimes?
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
Our Lord entered Jerusalem triumphantly on Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1–10), then spent the night in Bethany (vv. 11–12). On Holy Monday, he cursed a barren fig tree as a symbol of the “fruitless” nation of Israel (vv. 12–14; cf. Jeremiah 8:13; Micah 7:1). He next drove moneychangers from the temple (Mark 11:15–18).
Then “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14). He received the praise of children “crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’” (v. 15), despite the indignation of the chief priests and scribes (vv. 15–16). Then, “leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there” (v. 17).
Let’s focus today on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Five financial functions took place there during Holy Week, each of which incurred our Lord’s wrath.
Five reasons Jesus cleansed the temple
People came to Jerusalem for Passover “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Since there were no banks along the way, they had to bring the money they would need to finance their trip to Jerusalem and back. (Some stayed in the Holy City for fifty days until Pentecost, which made their trip even more expensive; cf. Acts 2:5–11).
Three financial functions were performed at the temple which carried their own Greek designation but are translated into the same English term: money-changers.
One: Foreign coins had to be changed into local currency, which was the function of the kollybistes (the “money-changers” of Matthew 21:12).
Two: Travelers would typically bring large denominations of money for ease of transport, which had to be converted into smaller coins. This was the function of the kermatistes, (the “money-changers” of John 2:14).
Three: Travelers would also store money at the temple, a service rendered by the trapezites (the “money-changers” of Matthew 25:27).
For the first two functions, the money-changers typically charged a premium of 4 to 8 percent; those acting as bankers paid interest at a fixed rate (though this was contrary to Jewish law; cf. Exodus 22:25).
Four: Those who came to the temple were required to pay a tribute of “half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exodus 30:13). This currency was in use only at the temple. As a result, those who came to sacrifice had to exchange their currency for it.
For each of these four functions, however, the money-changers were charging exorbitant rates. Since those who came to the temple had no other option, they were forced to pay them.
Five: Animals used for sacrifice at the temple were required to be “without blemish” (cf. Exodus 12:5). Since raising such animals and then transporting them all the way to Jerusalem was difficult for most people, they chose to buy their sacrificial animal when they arrived. However, those who marketed such animals were charging unfair prices for them.
For these reasons, Jesus “began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple” (Mark 11:15). He explained his action: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).
Two transforming life principles
Jesus’ cleansing of the temple teaches two profound principles today.
First, our Lord knows our sins, whether others hold us accountable for them or not.
The authorities allowed corruption by money-changers and perhaps profited from them personally (cf. Mark 11:18; Luke 16:14; Matthew 23:25). But Jesus saw their sin and responded proactively to it. He sees our “secret” sins just as clearly today (cf. Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13).
Second, our Lord is willing to forgive all we confess.
Holy Monday was the second time Jesus had to cleanse the temple (cf. John 2:13–17). The corrupt merchants had been unwilling to repent, so he was forced to judge and punish them. By contrast, if we will admit the sins in our personal “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16), he will cleanse us and forgive us. If we continue to seek his help, he will continue to give us victory.
I encourage you to make time on this Holy Monday to get alone with Jesus. Ask him to bring to mind anything in your life that needs to be cleansed from your “temple,” then confess all that comes to your thoughts and claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9). Ask him to help you cleanse your “temple” often.
I am convinced that one way our Lord wants to redeem the social distancing of these days is by using it to draw us closer to himself than ever before.
Who are the money-changers in your temple today?