This is Part 2 of a five part series. You can read Part 1 here.

To see and experience something of Jesus’ emotions, let us join eighty to a hundred thousand religious pilgrims on their trek to the sacred city to worship at the Jewish Temple. It is Passover week. In order to participate in the traditional Temple offerings, people need doves or pigeons. Since worshippers need these birds, they were sold at the Temple at a premium price. You could get a more economical bird outside the Temple courts or lug one from home through the hot desert. However, every bird used in Temple rituals had to pass the rigid purity standards of the Temple’s in-house animal inspectors. Only inflated Temple-sold birds had the guaranteed certification of the scrupulous inspectors. In this way, the house of prayer had become a classic case of what economists call a “captive market.”

But that is not all. Temple-certified pure birds could only be purchased with Temple-certified pure money. Crowds of travelling worshippers with all their Roman, Greek, Syrian, Phoenician, and Persian currency had to swap out their dirty silver, graven with kings’ heads, for the acceptable currency. The faceless sacred shekels could now be sold to the faithful at a gouging exchange rate. You are charged a one maah fee for every single coin exchanged (roughly, one fourth of a day’s working wage per coin), then another maah if you wanted any change back in an uneven transaction. You had to spend your money just to buy the right kind of money with which to buy their overpriced birds. You had to get swindled in one captive market just for the honor of being swindled in the next. One historian estimates that “a pair of doves [that] cost as little as nine pence outside the Temple [cost] as much as fifteen shillings within the temple.”[1] That’s a 2000-percent markup, like having to pay $40 for a drink you could get for $2 just outside the sports arena.[2] And so the sound of worship echoes through the courtyards of God’s house: cha-ching! cha-ching![3]

Those are facts that any historian could tell you. Jesus saw something more. He enters the scene like a fireball. Matthew’s eyewitness account of the event tells us that Jesus “drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.”[4] Around the money-changers’ and bird sellers’ upside down tables were beggars with broken bodies who assembled daily at the gates of the Temple courts.[5] Jesus could see extreme need literally steps away from extreme greed. It wasn’t merely that the greedy failed to lift up the needy. The greedy lifted themselves higher by pushing them into deeper poverty. Poor worshippers couldn’t afford goats, lambs, or oxen,[6] so they were the social class most heavily exploited by the Temple’s monopolized bird market.

According to the Jewish scripture Jesus cites in his rage, the Temple was to be “a house of prayer” where outcasts could gather to enjoy God.[7] Jesus saw that it had become instead a monument of corruption and oppression, “a robber’s den.”[8] There is an old Jewish proverb that says: “He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker.”[9] Given his profound solidarity and identification with the poor and exploited, God was being insulted in His own House. Jesus could see that and it boiled His blood. Outrage was his just sentiment; it fit the outrageousness of what the Temple had become.

What in today’s world could evoke this same kind of just sentiment? Over the years I have received hundreds of letters from poor worshippers, mostly from South America. The story is usually the same. Some destitute village has a small transistor radio piping in the airwaves of American televangelists who wear custom suits, live in sprawling mansions, and drive luxury sedans. Their promise of the so-called “hundredfold financial blessing” echoes through mud and straw huts: “Give $10 and receive $1,000; Give $1000 and receive $100,000”[10] When a week’s wage is measured in pesos and your kids’ are looking to you with hunger-hollowed eyes, the promise of a hundredfold financial blessing sounds irresistible (especially when it comes from rich Americans claiming to be the very voice box of God on earth).

If she accrues enough hard-earned wages from enough third world families then that first world televangelist can have more spending cash for her Florida shopping getaway. She can take one of five, yes five, ministry-owned jets for that much-needed getaway from her 6 million dollar, 18,000 square foot, crystal chandeliered, fully staffed residence in Tarrant County, Texas.[11] It could also help her husband (also a televangelist) achieve his dream of buying his wife a Cessna 10 super-jet to match his own (20 million each).[12] That way that they can race each other at just under the speed of sound in side by side flying palaces to their next third world speaking tour. When they land there to a rock star’s welcome, the donor’s families will still be hungry. That hundredfold blessing never came. They are told that they didn’t sow their last seed with enough faith, so they had better sow again. And they will. More fuel for the Cessnas, Cristal for the champagne flutes, wax for the Bentleys, and all in the name of Jesus. Is your blood boiling like his yet?

The New Testament tells us to “be angry,” with the important caveat, “but in your anger don’t sin.”[13] Aristotle observed, “anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy.” Jesus breaks us out of ourselves and shows us how to be angry in the right ways. He teaches us to fume when profit takes priority over people, greed over need, revenue over reverence. Following him will make us angry when we see religion that’s supposed to give people an “open door”[14] to God turned into a never-ending series of toll booths toward some divine blessing dangled like a sacred carrot in front of weary-souled travellers.

Jesus, teach us to rage at the outrageous things done in your name.

Read Part 3: The Compassion of Jesus here.

[1] William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus, (New York: Harper & Row, 1961) 190.

[2] That’s not to mention the mandatory Temple tax of roughly two days workers’ wages for every freeborn Jewish man. You would, of course, have to spend even more of your dirty money for the kosher coins required to pay your tax at the Temple.

[3] It is little wonder that when Crassus plundered the Temple in 53 B.C. he left Jerusalem about four-and-a-half million dollars richer.

[4] See Matthew 21:12.

[5] See Acts 3:2.

[6] Richard Bauckham, “Jesus Demonstration in the Temple,” in B. Lindars, ed., Law and Religion: Essays on the Place of the Law in Israel and Early Christianity, (Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 1988), 72-89: 76.

[7] See Isaiah 56:1-8.

[8] See Jeremiah 7:1-12. As N.T. Wright argues, “The poorer classes evidently regarded the Temple as symbolizing the oppression they suffered at the hands of the rich elite” (Jesus and the Victory of God, 412).

[9] See Proverbs 14:31.

[10] Gloria Copeland, God’s Will Is Prosperity, (Tulsa: OK: Harrison House, 1978) 54.

[11] Lynda Simmons, Senate Finance Committee, Minority Staff Review of EAGLE MOUNTAIN INTERNATIONAL CHURCH d/b/a KENNETH COPELAND MINISTRIES, 2008, 19. The full report can be viewed at:

[12] A boost in third world giving could also help fund the upkeep on one of televangelists Jesse Duplantis, Jerry Savelle, or Mark Bishop’s Cessna-500 jets (1.25 million each), or one of Fred Price, Creflo Dollar, or Benny Hinn’s Gulfstream-2s (4.5 million each).

[13] See Ephesians 4:26.

[14] A Jewish Midrash on Psalm 91 described the temple as the place where “one prays before the throne of glory; for there is the gateway of heaven and the open door to the hearing of prayer.”