As Christians when we interact with others are we being Jesus to them or are we being just a moment in Jesus’s life? Because in the same way we need to be careful to not use one verse in the Bible to base our theology on, we also need to be careful to take all of Jesus’s life into account when we consider what it means to be a Christian.
After Jesus’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus goes into the temple and finds buyers and sellers in the temple. His response is to do something that is completely righteous but this action could be considered by some to be harsh and judgmental particularly if this was all we saw of this moment in Jesus’s life.
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” ~Matthew 21:12-13~
If we put this into the proper context of the temple being a place of worship and that none of these people, who are corrupting the purpose of the temple and the sacrificial system, weren’t supposed to be selling inside the temple at all, we see this as a righteous actions on Jesus’s part to remove wrongful occupants of the temple.
However, if we looked at it from the perspective of one of those vendors (who clearly does not desire knowledge of God), who is trying to make their living and who has possibly been selling in the temple for months, maybe even years, and suddenly this person who again from the vendor’s perspective has no authority to come in and drive them out of their place of business, then this whole interaction might seem completely unloving and outrageous.
A similar problem occurs when people look at Christian’s response to sin. Without the proper context a completely righteous action can come off looking very outrageous to those who are unable to see from the knowledge of God. They also at times are missing the rest of the picture, because what does Jesus do next? Does He just keep everyone out of the temple because no one should be in it? No, He doesn’t. In the very next verse, who do we find coming into the temple now that the sellers have been driven out?
“Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.” ~Matthew 21:14~
Jesus’s next action after judgement is an invitation to those in need. He drove out those trying to corrupt the meaning of the temple, and He invited in those who were in need of what the temple has to offer: a way to God’s grace and mercy.
Similarly when Christians interact with others this expression of righteousness should never be made so that all are found wanting, but rather so that there is space for the invitation that comes next to be made and received. Too often though as Christians we forget to clean our own house, and we forget to make the invitation to those in need. Instead we’re too busy telling people that their ways don’t belong in the church. It’s an expression of “righteousness” without anything else, no invitation, no offer of salvation.
But on the flip-side, we as Christians can also end up being all about love and forget that without first taking the time to drive out the falseness, lies, and corruption within the spiritual system, there is no room or ability to truly or rightly welcome in those who are in need of and desiring what the temple is supposed to be there to offer them. These are the Christians who spend their time accepting the buyer’s and sells while welcoming the blind and the lame too, but because these Christians have no grasp of righteousness there is no capacity to actually point them to true healing, because the “acceptance” they have offered everyone and everything has filled the temple with falsehood, lies, and spiritual corruption.
Righteousness says: This is the standard. (Tells people they are broken)
Love says: You are cared about. (Tells people they are loved in their brokenness)
Grace says: You can’t meet the standard and because I care about you and the truth, I am here to introduce you to Jesus, who can make you whole.
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” ~Matthew 9:13~
In the same way the temple needed Jesus in it and sin removed in order for true help and healing to occur, we as Christians need Jesus in us and sin removed from our lives in order for true help and healing to occur within us and to then to be able to be offered to others because of our right expression of Jesus to them.
“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” ~Hos 6:6~
Do you have the knowledge of God? Are you loving and accepting others but neglecting knowing God? Are you so busy being righteous or telling others about righteousness that you have neglected understanding what God desires? Knowing God look like Jesus. Not just a moment of judgement and not just a moment of welcome, but all of Jesus which includes (but is not limited to) righteous, love, and mercy.