Jesus arrived in triumph at the very walls of the huge temple area. He had a good look around, but as it was evening and Jerusalem was packed to overflowing, they all went back to their Bethany friends for the night.
Next morning, Jesus returned to the temple. The first big area, or court, was open to all. But this was the only part where non-Jews, called Gentiles, were allowed to go. A big notice warned them to go no further on pain of death.
This court should have been a quiet place, where people could come to pray and learn about the true God.
Jesus was horrified at the scene that met his eyes and ears. There was a deafening hubbub of noise, sheep, cows and birds plus traders shouting out their wares. People with big packs threaded their way through the stalls, using the temple as a short cut. Jesus knew the traders selling the animals as offerings for the pilgrims to give to God were charging more than twenty times too much for them. The money changers were cheating, too. Every Jew had to pay a temple tax at Passover time, but those who changed the pilgrims’ coins into the temple shekel used for payment, were making a fat profit. The priests themselves were behind much of the trading.
Jesus was very angry that the poor should be cheated and that God’s house should be turned into a dishonest market. He strode forward, unafraid of his enemies, the priests, and with a strong arm overturned the stalls.
Tables and stools were soon upside down and coins rolled everywhere. Then Jesus shooed out the animals and turned away the people with their baggage. The pilgrims looked on in amazement. How brave Jesus was, to defy the most powerful people in the land!
Jesus explained to them: ‘God said that this temple should be a place where everyone, from every nation could come to pray and worship him. It shall not be turned into a thieves’ den.’
The people understood and were glad.
When thinking about ‘justice’, some people think first about giving wrongdoers the punishment they deserve. ‘Justice’ evokes ideas of ‘just deserts’, ’the punishment fitting the crime’, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.
However, that would be a one-sided picture of justice. Justice also means giving all people - particularly the poor and oppressed - what it is right and fair for them to have: life, health, freedom and dignity. It is about acting out of a concern for what is right and seeing right prevail. It is about social justice, especially for those who suffer most and are least able to protect themselves.
In Exodus, the people are instructed to deal with everyone fairly and never to show partiality to one group above another (Exodus 23:2,6).The Bible emphasises that ‘The righteous care about justice for the poor’ (Proverbs 29:7). Isaiah says: ‘Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow’ (Isaiah 1:17). Justice is the ‘plumb line’ by which society is measured (Isaiah 29:17). According to Amos, its presence in society should be constant and abundant: ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (Amos 5:24)
Throughout the Bible, it is emphasised that justice is immensely important to God. It is fundamental to God’s character. ‘For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.’ (Psalm 11:7)
Justice is not about a culture which encourages everyone to insist on their own rights at the expense of others. It is about a community that knows that everyone’s well-being is bound up with that of everyone else.
A commitment to justice leads to fierce opposition to injustice in whatever form it may be found. Justice is a pre-requisite of peace: without justice there can be no peace.