After talking a bit about the Sabbath yesterday, the text for today describes the perversion of commerce. There were traders, who were providing certified animals — without spot or defect, as the law commanded — for sacrifice. Most if not all people did not bring livestock with them, but bought it.
But this led to profit, a den of robbers…
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
18In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. 22Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
The last bit of this has been taken as a proof text for prosperity: that if we ask in faith, we will receive. Since I consider the prosperity doctrine is in direct conflict with the teaching of Christ — that we will suffer — I can either excuse this as hyperbole (which it is in part) or look at it in context
Jesus had stopped profiteers. He had then done good and healed. His priority was towards the people, not profit.
As an aside, there is nothing wrong with business and profit. The workman is worthy of his pay, and to pay that person you have to sell for more than you bought. There is a lot wrong with the use of exploitation, a rentier economy, where a certification or permission costs money.
And this brings me back to worship. In the temple of Jerusalem, there were musicians and choirs supported by the temple tax: there was also a sense that one needed the correct type of animal — at cost, considerable cost. In our services there is music, but it is not often in the public domain, and there are many musicians who claim dollars from the licensing of their songs.
The current copyright laws are broken. In secular terms. They oppress artists, by allowing patent trolls to sue if a new work is inspired by or similar to one that is copyright, let alone allowing sampling or mashups. In addition, the distribution of programs and music is slowed by licensing systems that treat each nation as a market to be exploited. Many secular writers question this.
But in the church, worship should be more free. Music should be shared — or only music than can be shared should be used. I’d rather use tithes to support a composer, (like Back, as an organist or choirmaster) than have every performance only occurring with a fee.
Copyright, particularly unjust copyright, has no place in worship. Or in the church.
Back to the fig tree. If we ask, if faith, for the purposes of God, many great things can happen. Over the history of the church, there are many times when this has happened. But if we claim this for selfish purposes — we risk instead of what we want we will get what we need. And that might be rebuke. It is a frightening thing to claim the promises of a living God.