Mark 11:15-18 - Inclusion
15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 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.”
18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.
It is difficult for us to imagine what the Temple in Jerusalem must have looked like, even with the various models that experts have designed based off the remaining stone structures and the written descriptions found in the biblical text and the history of Josephus (a Jewish Historian working for the Roman Empire). In the context of this passage, we are looking at the Second Temple which included the original Temple Mount as well as the additions made to the Temple by Herod the Great around 19 B.C.E. Extensions to the Temple Mount included expanding the former complex on the northern, western, and southern sides of the mount.
One of the structures within the mount, added by Herod, was a colonnade called the Royal Stoa, designed for the purpose of selling sacred goods. This would include the selling of all manner of birds and beasts used in the various temple sacrifices. This designated area was intentionally set apart from other court areas of the Temple, most notably, a larger area known as the Court of the Gentiles. During high holidays, however, religious leaders, seeing an opportunity to make more money, would expand the area allotted for buying and selling, allowing it to spill over into the Court of Gentiles.
The term “Gentile” in this context meant anyone who was not Jewish. As we can see in this passage, Jesus clearly states that this area of the Temple that the moneychangers have invaded is “a house of prayer for all the nations.” Jesus understands the significance of the Court of Gentiles and refuses to allow commerce to usurp the prayer space. For Jesus, this scene is an inclusion issue.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day struggled with many of the same issues we struggle with in our own country. We perceive that the “other” is taking over space that we feel does not belong to them. This encroachment into our world can feel uncomfortable and dislodging. What Jesus does, however, is make clear that the displacement of the Gentiles (through the expanding of the area of selling and buying goods) is counter to God’s plan for how we live in community along-side one another. This space, made available to all people, cannot be summarily replaced by the desire for revenue; or, in our case, a desire to remain homogenous.
Jesus’ bold assertion and his flipping over of tables causes a complete disruption of the selling of animals for the Passover sacrifices, and Jesus doesn’t care one iota about the consequences. Jesus doesn’t care that his actions might cause an uproar in the city, that he might incite the high council to act against him, or that the Roman Empire might send soldiers in to squelch the disorder. Jesus was acting on his conscience. There was no question in Jesus’ mind about right or wrong because everyone is allowed in the Temple for prayer. Jesus’ call for inclusion in the Temple, especially the area known as the Court of the Gentiles, is one of the reasons he is ultimately labeled an insurrectionist which led to his death.
Jesus demonstrates in this powerful story how welcoming we are to be to all people. We are to offer space for all to come in, unencumbered by our legalistic, moralistic piety. We are never to erect walls where there should be none. Nor are we to keep out those whom God has invited in. God’s kingdom is open to all, and it is not in our purview to change that which God ordains.