April 2, 2020

The Church – In Bed With Mammon

The stranglehold that mammon appears to have over humans and the ways in which it worms its way into the faith community are of such gravity that we detain ourselves another week on the subject.  John 2: 13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

We indicated last week that the money changers and the sellers of sheep and cattle were providing a legitimate service but in an illegitimate manner and place.  Further examples of faith communities placing greater emphasis on the acquisition of money over the provision of space and opportunity for prayer exist. 

The practice of spending a large chunk of time in a corporate worship service using psychological manipulation to twist people into giving large sums of money towards a building project deserves to be called into question.  There are times when this is the main item on the program that day.  Where there is a careful collective commitment to prayer for the provision of the needs of the faith community there would be no need for the mental manipulation which visitors and non-members are finding rather repulsive. Instead persons will be led by the Spirit of God to donate amounts that God will provide.

It is interesting to note that invariably these large fund raisers tend to be for the erection of expansive physical structures or the addition of creature comforts to the existing plant. Not that anything is wrong necessarily with that but one hardly hears of large sums being raised towards humanitarian relief in the community or towards scholarships for struggling students of the church and community.  The efforts to acquire more money seems to quite often have an insular and self-aggrandizing objective behind it.

There is another interesting observation arising from John’s account. Whereas in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s account of the story the merchants are specifically mentioned as being driven out along with their merchandise, John writes with a focus on the merchandise being displaced but not the merchandisers.  This is what John says, “In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.    Contrast that with what the synoptic writers say, take Luke 21:45 for example, 45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them,…   What am I driving at? Why would John focus on the animals and the inanimate coins and not mention the humans? I want to believe that John’s focus was on the place of prayer, the priority of prayer as a central activity in the life of the church by and for the people. We must therefore seek to keep people in that place, not drive them out. It is the objects that distract and disorient people that must be driven out while we seek to keep people in the place of prayer. 

This fits in with the next observation which is in implied in the text.  The fact is that in their pursuit of mammon the very space of the merchandizing was the space that was set aside for the worship of persons from the nations.  The temple space was meant to be an inclusive space. Jesus reminded them that this was YHWH’s intent.  His zeal was to protect that objective. We must therefore be careful to ensure that we are not keeping people away from the place of prayer, that we are not driving out those who show up, that our fascination with mammon is not a turn off, that we do not exploit anyone who seeks solace in the place of prayer. We must be intentional in promoting our venues as spaces that are available to strangers and non-members as opposed to the kind of “members only” air that permeates many of our churches.

Mammon’s elevation in the house of His Father bothered Jesus to the extent that it did because the paraphernalia of mammon and the noise and crowd associated with it occupied the space where healing and deliverance should be taking place.  Notice that in Matthew’s record of the incident he states, “14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.  Immediately after the clearing of the Temple space the blind and the lame were led and brought to Jesus.   It is an absolute disaster when we erect barriers of whatever nature but especially of the “mammonic” kind, that prevent those who are incapacitated from coming to us to have God’s grace ministered unto them.  God’s power is not for sale. Once we begin to put a price on prayers for healing, and trinkets for deliverance we automatically exclude those who are not able to afford to put bread on their table nor get to a specialist doctor. 

This selling of healing and deliverance is not always direct. There is a subtle way in which the teaching of seed sowing has also been twisted and hijacked by those who are flirting with Mammon.  The poor are crowded out because there is a larger seed required to be sown if their medical complication is particularly serious.                The final observation has to do with the direction of Jesus’ zeal for His father’s house.  It was directed at preserving the equal access and egress by all to the centrality of prayers unto God.  It has been my observation that there are some among us who have zeal for the church building and property above zeal for those who should be using it. The building and property become more important than people. A dirty and disheveled man for example will be kept on the outside because he will dirty the seats. Boys who have nowhere else in the community to play are shouted off the church’s parking lot because they may damage the windows. Let no one pretend to be like Jesus with zeal if this is how they are focused.

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