18 February 2016Jeremiah 7:1-11
“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord." (v. 11)
Psalm: Psalm 37:30-40
Three of the Gospels tell us about Jesus overturning the moneychangers' tables at the temple in Jerusalem and accusing them of turning the place into a den of robbers (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). He is quoting Jeremiah at that point.
Imagine arriving for worship next Sunday to be greeted by someone standing at the entrance shouting: "God says: 'Mend your ways and everything you do. Will you let me in please - it's my house! It's my house!'"
Jeremiah was standing at the Temple Gate reminding every worshipper that God was watching - that they could not live corrupt lives and just expect to turn up when they fancied and appropriate God to themselves. The worship of Yahweh had become corrupted with Ba'al worship, prejudice against aliens, unnecessary sacrifices and a flippant acknowledgement of God.
True worship of Yahweh had been pushed into the background or diluted by the cultic practices. What actually happened was more of a religious enterprise, what Walter Brueggemann calls "a place of self-indulgence and satiation".
Many of the Old Testament prophets were quick to condemn, in God's name, the practices of the priests and call on the people to show penitence.
As the old Isaac Watts hymn says:
"Not all the blood of
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain."
Centuries later, when Jesus adopts Jeremiah's phrase about a den of robbers, it isn't simply to rail against corruption in the temple - or by implication in today's religious world. It is to make it clear that God knows what is going on and those who cheat the poor in the guise of faith will find that there is a day of reckoning.
"You know, I too am watching," says the Lord (v. 11).
- What should we preach against today?
- How can the Church stand alongside those damaged by harmful religious practices?