Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 57; 145, Numbers 22:1-21, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 21:12-22
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the first thing Jesus did after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem was drive merchants and customers out of the temple, and turn over the tables of the money changers. Matthew tells this story quickly and makes it clear Jesus is upset because: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” Once the temple was cleared, blind and lame people came to Jesus there, and he healed them.
Notice that Jesus didn’t kick out just the sellers, but also the buyers. The sellers and money changers may have been exploiting religious pilgrims, but the buyers were also participating in the corruption of the temple. Surely many of the customers, if asked, would have said they had no choice; without offerings they could not enter the temple. But when their practices finally caught up with them, they were driven from the temple anyway.
Often when we say we don’t have a choice, what we really mean is we don’t have an attractive choice. “If I say something about this unethical practice, I’ll lose my job.” That’s a choice. “I know this business treats its employees more fairly, but their prices are too high so I shop elsewhere.” Also a choice. “I know this song-sharing site is illegal, but money is tight right now.” Choice (and theft). Principles are not cheap. They can cost us money, respect, and friendships. If we aren’t willing to risk these things, we don’t have principles, we have preferences – and not even strong ones.
Of course these are examples of choices available to the reasonably comfortable. Sometimes our choices actually are restricted by circumstances such as poverty and ability. Many of us are crowded out by the “buyers and sellers” going about their daily, unexamined business. It is on the shoulders of people who have many options to consider how they are impacting those with fewer options. Luke 12:48 tells us: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
When a system is corrupt or unjust, we have the choice to opt out, even if it causes us inconvenience or harm. Jesus opted out all the way to the cross.
It’s never too late to start behaving more ethically. We might need to jump-start that change with a purging of our inner temple, a ruthless examination of our own participation in evils small and large. Clearing them out makes room for the healing spirit of God. There is nothing more valuable in the world.
Comfort: You will always have a choice.
Challenge: You won’t always like the choices you have.
Prayer: God of wisdom, grant me the discernment to make good choices, and the courage to follow through on them. Amen.
Discussion: Have you ever felt like you didn’t have a choice? Was that really the case?
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