What grieves you? What angers you? Would these things grieve or anger God? Do your deepest longings echo God’s desires?
14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.
16"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him.
"Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read,
" 'From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise'?"
17And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
An angry Jesus
Today we encounter an angry Jesus. First, he shows his fury in the Temple (vs 12,13); then he curses a tree (vs 18,19)! Both incidents are enacted parables.
The ‘Temple area’ (v 12) refers to the Court of the Gentiles, where ‘foreigners’ could join themselves to the covenant people in worshipping Israel’s God. Jesus surely yearned for the fulfillment of Isaiah 56:7, to see the Temple serving as ‘a house of prayer for all nations’ (v 13). His anger burns when, instead, he finds profiteering merchants and money-lenders crowding this area, effectively hindering Gentiles from drawing near to God. The Temple-cleansing (v 12) isn’t just a denunciation of corruption, but points to a greater truth – the Temple itself is due for replacement (see John 2:19–21).
The next day’s tree-cursing is neither random nor unrelated. The fig tree, lush with leaves, carried a promise of fruit – yet it turned out to be an empty promise (v 19). ‘Hungry’ (v 18) for fruits of righteousness, Jesus was justifiably angry because, despite exhibiting the outward marks of religion, Israel yielded nothing more than barren legalism, ritualism and ceremonialism. The immediate withering of the tree (v 19b) warns of impending judgement upon unfruitful Israel.
Paul warns against ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ (2 Timothy 3:5). Is your faith limited to a ‘form’ of words or rituals? Or is it a flourishing, fruitful faith?
As the crowds entered Jerusalem, Jesus proceeded to the Temple, the centre of national and religious life. In the outermost Court of the Gentiles, money changers were exchanging (at a fee) unacceptable currency for high-grade silver coins required by every Jew to pay their annual Temple tax. Nearby were traders, selling, at considerable profit, unblemished animals and birds for the obligatory sacrifices to accompany the Temple rituals required after childbirth, healing or forgiveness of sin. The noise, smell and commotion made any attempt at prayer almost impossible. Yet this was the only place where Gentiles could pray and seek communion with the God of Israel.
No doubt the marketplace noise carried through to the Court of the Women, into which all Jews (except those with disabilities) could enter, and further into the Court of the Israelites where Temple services were conducted in which men could participate.1 What was supposed to be a place of prayer and worship for all nations was no better than a den of robbers (Is 56:7; Jer 7:11). Jesus’ righteous indignation was not an aberration: he was claiming his rightful authority to deal with sin at the heart of his nation. By his death he would shortly open up the way for all nations to access the Father. This was a symbolic first step.
Many from the crowds were still with him, no doubt observing his actions with delight! The excitement of their children had not dissipated; among the marketplace noise they continued shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. This was more than the authorities could stomach. When they indignantly approached Jesus to reproach them, he questioned their knowledge of the Scriptures, recalling that children’s praise is always accepted (Ps 8:2). Jesus would not be bullied. Authority, justice and judgement are in his hands.
1 William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Vol 2, p268–71