Exodus 20:1-17 Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 John 2:13-22
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today we heard about the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. I wish there had been an eleventh, ‘Thou shalt not freeload or circumvent’ ! Maybe it’s in there somewhere under ‘Thou shalt not steal or covet’ but today we could use a little bit more of a clearer statement because our laws seem to be easily misinterpreted or manipulated.
When we find that brilliant tax lawyers can twist the tax laws unfairly in their clients’ favour by setting up numerous off-shore companies, all with a finger in each other’s pies, until illegality is lost in a maze of deception, then those clients are freeloading on all other taxpayers – stealing. Remember that when April 30th comes round and you dutifully send off your cheques to Justin and his buddies and buddettes in Ottawa. Even when these deceivers get caught they make a deal to pay something a lot less than they owe. So when you send off your cheques make them out for 50% of what you owe and tell the CRA that’s as much as you are prepared to pay, otherwise you will take them to Court ! I promise, I will come and visit you in the slammer !
That’s the kind of thing the moneychangers were doing in the Temple that got Jesus so angry. They were operating under laws which they bent more than a little. The Temple authorities had set up a system of monetary exchange, all foreign currencies had to be changed into Temple currency and the moneychangers cheated on the Rate of Exchange. Not only that they knew that God didn’t want sacrifices (Psalm 40:6, 51:16, Isaiah 1:11, Jeremiah 6:20, Hosea 8:13, 9:4) it being a manmade system of obeisance. The system of sacrifices had arisen for two reasons, one as a sign of repentance for transgressions, the other as a sign of thanksgiving. As repentance, it was a statement of what a person was prepared to give-up to make-up for the sins they had committed, a penalty. As thanksgiving it was a celebration. Think of the latter as being much like our Harvest Festival, when we bring the produce of the land to Church and give thanks, bless it, then eat it. Years before the prophet Zechariah had identified the problem in the practice of sacrifice at the Temple and had told the people to instead eat their thanksgiving sacrifice at home and thereby freeze the crooked traders out of their Temple profits (Zechariah 14:21). But the Temple authorities were more powerful than he was. They had made all sorts of rules around the sacrifice. If you brought one of your own flock to sacrifice, it was nearly always deemed blemished and not suitable as a sacrifice, so the supplicant would have to buy with expensive Temple money an unblemished creature (Leviticus 3:1) at an exorbitant price. So the system was rotten to the core and Jesus knew it. That’s why He drove the animals out of the Temple and disrupted the money changers’ business. What had started with a pure intention had devolved into corruption.
Things had gone way wrong, like the Medieval system of Indulgences, under which you could supposedly buy your way into Heaven – the Reformation got rid of that idea. People were told that by making a sacrifice of some of their wealth they would offset their sin, all that really happened was that the Church got rich. There is nothing we can give to make up for our sins, even to the extent of giving up our lives. The Good News is that Jesus, the unblemished Person has already given up His life in lieu of us. There is no sacrifice we can make, except perhaps the one we voice during Morning Prayer, that is “The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). God wants us to repent our wrongdoings and live a righteous life, that’s all. In Evening Prayer we ask that our prayers be acceptable “Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2). So we pray for our prayers to be heard.
God prefers obedience, love and righteousness to sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22, Psalm 51:17, Proverbs 21:3, Hosea 6:6).
Obedience to our laws is our duty but the laws themselves have to be fair, that is the assumption Paul makes (Romans 13:3, Titus 3:1) when he asks us to follow the law.
Allowing some people to ‘game’ the system at the expense of others is not permissible under the full intent of the Ten Commandments, which covers the gamut of our social and religious obligations.
Always be on your guard against bad laws and misapplication, or absence, of law. Question whether the law treats people fairly, it is the Christian thing to do, and we have seen plenty of bad laws and misapplications over our history and in our recent past too, we can’t blame Sir J. A., and Cornwallis for everything for ever. Are our laws on crime and punishment with regard to sentencing fair, especially to those with mental disorders, are our laws fair and fairly applied to minorities, are our laws deficient for the unborn and the dying, are our laws and implementation of them actually ensuring equality regardless of creed, colour, age or sex ? Are there enough protections ensuring free speech and the right to Innocence in the court of public opinion at the same time ? And as I started are our tax laws fair ? Today these are the things that should get us angry like Jesus. So go and raise a ruckus in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and get this secular temple in which we live, cleaned-up ! Amen.