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My house will be called …

What was Jesus’s problem with the moneylenders?

It is surely ironic that the best people to understand the teachings of Jesus are not Bible scholars, New Testament theologians or Divinity professors but the First Century Jews who were there to hear them first hand, but who basically didn’t get it! It wasn’t just that Jesus spoke their language and they were witnesses to these teachings, it was that every nuance, word play and saying was steeped in the culture of the day. It was as if a 31st century Esperanto-speaking historian was studying the works of Bob Marley, thinking that all that is needed was a library of references on 20th Century Jamaican patois and a good training in historical analysis, but ultimately failing without the benefits of ganja, reggae and the laid-back Caribbean life-style. You just had to be there to get it.

So Jesus was a Rabbi. He was addressed as such by a lawyer, a rich man, Pharisees, Sadducees and ordinary Jews, so you can take it as read. The word comes from the Hebrew word rav and its original meaning was as a “master”, though by Jesus’ day it was also used as a title for a teacher (though it wasn’t until after 70AD when it was used formally in this way). His ministry was typical of those times, fully itinerant, never in one place for long.

To fully appreciate the teachings of a 1st Century Jewish rabbi, one really needs to get into the skin of a 1st Century Jew, or at least do it by proxy. So, in this Chapter we are all 1st Century Jews. We are going to sample some of Jesus’ teachings through 1st Century Jewish eyes, rather than through Western interpretations of English translations of Greek scripture written by Jews who would be thinking the words in Hebrew or Aramaic. These will be familiar stories, but will seem new to you, because you will hear them through a Hebraic filter. Hold on to your yarmulkas, we’re going on a journey …

There you were, minding your own business, among the throng at the gates of the Temple, joining the larger of the two queues leading to the livestock enclosures. You were there to pay your annual Temple dues and buy your Passover sacrifice, a dove in your case, on account of your lowly station in life. Hours later, you could see, hear and smell the object of your visit and were just fiddling around in your pouch for the half shekel, when a loud voice bellowed from behind you. An angry, insistent voice, growing louder by the second as it approached. You couldn’t turn around, your transaction had been initiated. But the loud crash forced a reaction and you twisted your head to see the commotion by the stalls of the money changers. The carefully arranged stacks of coins were no more, money was strewn over the straw, rolling in the dust, as the benches lay on their side, flanked by red-faced angry men. But none was angrier than the one who was at the heart of the mayhem and he was now striding towards you …

“Is it not written”, he declared in a firm, controlled voice, as he made steady progress across the Temple court, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” …

Time froze. You may have only been a poor Jew, but you knew your scriptures. Everyone had some knowledge of the Prophets and wise ones and the words spoken by this Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth, were very familiar. They were spoken by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier, words that described how things should be in God’s house. Uncomfortable words, because everyone knew how things were, were not how things ought to be. Trying times, but all too easy to blame it on the Romans, cursed be their name. As if he was reading your thoughts, his next words drove home like a stake to the heart. As Jesus spoke them, he raised his arms, as if to encircle everyone who was there and slowly rotated them in a sweeping motion.

But you have made it ‘a den of robbers …’”

The story continues next week …

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