Did you know that the same day that President Lincoln established the Secret Service, he was shot at Ford’s Theatre? “When the United States Secret Service (with the awesome acronym of USSS) was established, its main duty was to prevent the illegal production, or counterfeiting, of money. In the 1800s, America’s monetary system was very disorganized. “Bills and coins were issued by each state through individual banks, which generated many types of legal currency. With so many different kinds of bills in circulation, it was easy for people to counterfeit money. During President Lincoln’s Administration, more than a third of the nation’s money was counterfeit.
“On the advice of Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch, President Lincoln established a commission to stop this rapidly growing problem that was destroying the nation’s economy, and on April 14, 1865, he created the United States Secret Service to carry out the commission’s recommendations.
“The Secret Service officially went to work on July 5, 1865. Its first chief was William Wood. Chief Wood, widely known for his heroism during the Civil War, was very successful in his first year, closing more than 200 counterfeiting plants.”1
What Jesus found at the Temple wasn’t a counterfeiting ring, but they were dealing with funny money. St. John tells us that the Passover of the Jews was near, and that Jesus went with His disciples to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice in the Temple. It was required of every Jewish male to make at least one pilgrimage to the Temple for Passover in his lifetime, and even though we know that Jesus had made that trip before, St. John tells us that Jesus made the trip again. What He found when He got there must have been familiar to Him, it’s not like Jesus just missed the Temple marketplace the first 29 times He walked up for the Passover.
The difference this time was that Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He had called His disciples and called for people to repent and return to the Lord, and perhaps a bit more public, He had turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana. Jesus couldn’t hide who He was anymore, and if He was at all inclined to hide, the whip and the yelling and the flipping of tables made that impossible.
Now, to make sacrifice for the Passover, you had to either bring your sacrifice with you, risking that your dove or ox or whatever was not up to Temple standards, or buy the animal from the merchants at the Temple. This buying and selling took place in the Court of the Gentiles, the courtyard outside of the Temple proper, where just about anybody could walk around.
Now you know how a can of coke cost 90 cents at Boyd’s but costs 5 dollars at the Maryland House rest stop? Same thing in the Temple courtyard, they’ve got you. Additionally, the Jews would bring their Roman and Greek coins with images of the emperor, but such coins were inadmissible in the Temple because they were unclean due to the pagan images of the Caesars on those coins. Those coins with the image of Caesar would have to be exchanged for Jewish “kosher” coins. The money-changers made good profits off of these exchanges, especially considering that the Temple currency had no actual value outside the Temple, and you’d always somehow end up with useless change after you bought your ox or dove.2
It was this kind of thing that drove Jesus to cleansing levels of fury. Surely seeing this injustice year after year, visit after visit, built up in Him until that particular Passover. Surely Jesus wasn’t just antipathetic to that injustice all that time, conveniently ignoring it for years before doing anything about it. It does make you wonder, though, what kinds of injustices we have been walking past all this time, the human suffering we find it convenient to ignore. I think we’re pretty good at taking on the big things in our parish, the surrounding area that we’re responsible for, taking care of the most vulnerable in our city and along 130 and 206. But let’s take this Lent as a time to keep our eyes open, to see the things we normally choose to ignore, and then bring those things here in prayer and discussion, so that following the example of our Lord, we might drive out the evils among us.
2Stolen from myself, and I noted in the old sermon that I took this from Sermons from Seattle.