Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cleansing the Temple: Down with Doves!

“He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take those things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (John 2:16)

Sheesh, what’s Jesus got against doves, anyway?

No, of course it isn’t about doves. It is about exploitation. The system (comprised of money changers, dove sellers, and priests) was exploiting the sacred ritual of sacrifice for the sake of earthly gain - money and power - which those in the system craved even if it meant the degradation of the temple itself.

Here’s the system: In order to be faithful you must make a sacrifice at the temple; in order to sacrifice you must have an animal; in order to have an animal you either drag one all the way from home or buy one when you get there; in order to buy one you cannot use secular coins since they have human images engraved on them; in order to get proper coins you must exchange money; in order to exchange money you have to pay a fee to the money changers, who then give you the right currency so you can by an appropriate animal so you can make your sacrifice so that you can be faithful to God.

It all makes sense; the system fits together quite nicely. However, it is important to point out that Jesus wasn’t only confronting the people (who were probably less than honest) changing money and selling doves, but also confronting the system itself. It is the system that exploits; the people were caught up in the system such that the system had become the focus of attention, rather than God.

It’s a good thing our systems today never exploit sacred things for earthly gain any more, isn’t it? (The preceding was written with drippingly sarcastic tone of voice.) Think of judges demanding granite decalogues on courthouse lawns; think of preachers insisting that there is only one way to think about God; think of legislators legislating that public school students be encouraged to pray; think of school boards treating the Bible like just another history book; just for a few examples. They get a lot of attention, a lot of press coverage, a lot of reaction – all of which generates power and wealth – and yanks the focus away from God. “‘Round and ‘round goes the carousel.”

This week’s gospel lesson is more than a story about Jesus; it is a story about us. Every exploitive system needs overturning, and disciples of Jesus Christ are called to follow his example and turn them over. As the Divine Liberator, Christ sets people free from exploitive and oppressive systems. My relationship with God is far too sacred, far too important, far too precious for me to allow it to be trapped in and exploited by the systems of this world.

Nothing against doves or anything, but if they are keeping me from meeting God, they have to go!


Kansas Bob said...

Interesting take on exploitation ... is the offering plate the modern day version of the doves? Putting a plate/bag in someone's face each Sunday is somewhat exploitive. I wonder what would happen if churches stopped taking offerings and asked people to give in such a way that was not compulsatory in nature (i.e. mail, box at the door)? Wait a minute ... lets go back to doves ... this is getting a bit too personal :)

Stephen said...

Had trouble with this passage a few incarnations ago as a Youth Director. The church wanted the youth to "raise their own money", but complained about the youth "soliciting donations in the church". (Said Jesus was against it)

The saddest thing is that a lot of people I know use this passage as a way of advocating Jesus as a person of violence rather than non-violence.

Michael said...

Way back when, I had a continuing battle with a small church I served as lay leader. Inside the foyer at the entrance were things "for sale" and other groups soliciting money (you had to go thru this circus to enter the sanctuary!). I felt that the location was inappropriate and downright degrading. The argument I got from the pastor and from many in the congregation is that these people were raising funds for a church-related cause.

Pretty weak.

Dave Wood said...

I think the point is that at the temple, you HAD to sacrifice to be faithful. Then you were exploited to be able to do that. In the modern collection of offering, you are merely given an opportunity to 'chip in' to the ministry of the church. If you don't want to, don't. If you don't want to buy cookies from the women, or trash bags from the SCouts, or calendars from the youth, or tickets to a meal or any other fundraiser, you don't have to. Yet you are STILL welcome to worship. That is NOT exploitation. In a lot of ways the 'selling' of items at the door to the sanctuary is the only way some people know about the other ministries of the church. It offers them the opportunity to focus their giving to a specific area of need. (e.g. - buying the calendar to support the youth.) If you take your time and effort to repair a leaky faucet at the church, in order to support God's work, God doesn't care if you give a dime. Of course it takes money to keep the church building going. Every church struggles with that. But they don't charge you admission. (like they did at the temple) They just ask for your help. We all agree to support the church with our prayers, our gifts, our presence, and our service. You don't like the 'gift' part, do the other three.

David said...

It went one step further in the exploitation too. You talked about "bringing an animal from home" for sacrifice. Only most of those were deemed to be "imperfect" and thus unacceptable for sacrifice. Leaving only the option of buying the "Temple Livestock", which guaranteed the money changing, and the additional mark-up of the temple livestock.