He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
A house for all?
When Jesus said this, he was challenging the ruling hierarchy of the Herodian temple. He was looking at that vast set of courtyards and colonnades, bustling with people, coins, and bleating, fluttering, lowing animals. People from all over the world gathered there to gawk and pray and praise the God of Israel. This god must indeed be great to have such a wondrous temple, to be honored so by his people.
But Jesus saw an institution and a leadership that failed in its most fundamental obligation to God. This was a place that plundered the poor rather than lifted them up. It did not do the justice and mercy of God. It did not shelter the homeless or feed the hungry or guard the lands of the poor. Indeed, the leading families of Jerusalem joined “house to house and field to field,” as the prophet Isaiah said. What was to be “a house of prayer for all nations” had become a den of thieves.
The words of Jesus echo off the ancient temple walls and reverberate through the churches of today. Do we glorify God with majestic buildings and ritual or with justice and mercy? Are we a house of prayer for all nations? Do all people find a welcome here? Are all met with the open arms of God?