Let Nothing Block Access to God
Watching the movie John Q helps me to understand the Biblical account of Jesus overthrowing tables in the temple and driving out the money changers.
In the movie, Denzel Washington plays the part of John Quincy Archibald, a Chicago factory worker whose young son, Michael, is rushed to the hospital after collapsing at a softball game. John and Denise Archibald are told that Michael needs a heart transplant to survive. The procedure will cost the family $250,000 with a required down payment of $75,000 in order to place Michael on the organ recipient list, but due to the factory’s recent change of insurance carriers, John’s health insurance refuses to cover the surgery. When the Archibalds are unable to raise the needed funds and are unable to arrange alternate aid, the hospital decides to release Michael from their care so that he can die at home. Distraught over the prospect of losing their child, Denise pleads with John to do something. In desperation, John takes Dr. Turner and several patients and staff hostage, demanding that Michael’s name be placed on the recipient list.
Desperation to save his child drives John Q. Archibald to extreme actions. That’s the kind of pathos stirring in Jesus’ soul as he watched what was taking place in the temple.
Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem at the beginning of preparations for Passover. This meant that pilgrims from many distant towns were also arriving in Jerusalem. For many, this was the time when they would pay their yearly temple tax. But the temple would only accept Tyrian shekels which had a higher silver content than the normal Roman currency. Money changers in the temple charged a handsome markup in the exchange process, greedily profiteering off of worshipers.
On top of that, temple authorities appointed inspectors to check the quality of every animal that worshipers hoped to present as a sacrifice, to certify that every gift to God was without injury or blemish. If the inspector decided an animal had an unacceptable flaw, the worshiper would be required to purchase a replacement from one of the temple’s merchants. Often the temple sellers would charge as much as 20 times more than what the same animal would be sold for outside of the temple.
Mark specifically notes that Jesus overturned the benches of those who were selling doves. The law stipulated that a dove was an acceptable sacrifice for those who could not afford to present a lamb or goat. Doves were the usual sacrifice by women for their purification, by lepers for their cleaning, and by the poor. The ability to offer a dove in the temple was essential for those who were most vulnerable in Jewish society at the time.
Moreover, the area of the temple where business was taking place is the portion that was referred to as the Court of the Gentiles. This was where God-fearing Gentiles could draw near to God. By setting up shop in this section of the temple, the merchants and the temple authorities were blocking Gentiles from having access to God.
When the life of his son was at risk, John Q took the extreme action of taking the doctor and others hostage. When Jesus observed the risk to the souls of those who were being pushed aside, Jesus took desperate actions himself. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. As desperate as John Q was to get his son on the recipient list, so desperate is Jesus that no one be blocked from having access to God.
Indeed, Jesus goes on to take the ultimate step. He lays down his life to give everyone access to God! Matthew, Mark and Luke each report that when Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was ripped in two, from top to bottom. The veil in the temple was a long, thick, woven curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen. It separated “the Most Holy Place”—where God was thought to reside—from everything else. The thick curtain that set apart that room symbolized the separation between us and God. It represented the barrier between God’s pure holiness and our sinfulness. By ripping the curtain apart, from top to bottom, at the point of Jesus’ death, God sent a message, letting us know that because of the death of Christ, nothing will be allowed to separate us from God—not the tables of money changers or the exploitation of dove sellers or a curtain in the temple or sin or death or anything else will be allowed to block our access to the love of God!