- Exodus 20:1-17
- Psalm 19:1
- Cor 1:18-25
- John 2:13-22
We’re in the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight, when we take action against the injustice and exploitation which leave farmers unable to feed their families. Do we look out for the Fairtrade logo on everything from snacks to socks? By supporting fair trade, we seek to foster God’s justice, in partnership with others who share the vision of a world where all are treated fairly.
Today’s gospel reading is about very unfair trade. This story is set at Passover time, when the population of Jerusalem tripled as Jews flocked from all over the Roman Empire. They came to take part in the annual celebration of God’s great act of protection in leading the people out of Egypt across the Red Sea. It’s easy to see why people wanted to bring their best to God in thanksgiving. But, as ever, there were some waiting to make a profit, selling the animals for sacrifice, exchanging ordinary currency for the high-value Tyrian coins which were accepted in the temple.
Jesus confronted a situation in the temple where worshippers were being encouraged to focus on spending money as a way of worshipping God. He reacted with anger and incredible courage. John tells us he made a whip; the other three gospels all tell us that he accused the sellers of making God’s house ‘a den of robbers’.
Let justice roll down like waters
God cares for justice
Some find Jesus’ anger troubling – we don’t like to think of our Lord becoming angry. If he took offence at an insult to himself, we would be right to be concerned. But his anger is at the offence to his Father. God is dishonoured by those who profit from worship. Equally, the people who pay over the odds to buy these offerings are treated unjustly – in the dwelling-place of the God who said: ‘Let justice roll down like waters’ (Amos 5:24). God cares for justice more than sacrifice. God is worshipped through righteousness, not through riches. The gifts that really count are gifts of the heart, not of the pocket.
The Ten Commandments offer a parallel perspective. Commandments five to ten set out how the people of Israel are to live, honouring parents and one another, not exploiting each other. Commandments one to four establish the context for this lifestyle, where God is at the centre of life and nothing can take God’s place. Ways of life which show honour and respect for one another flow from love for God and unfaltering worship. It really matters to find ways of worshipping God which are shaped by justice, which lead us away from exploiting others.
As supporters of Christian Aid, we can wholeheartedly endorse the goals of fair trade – we believe in life before death, and so we believe it is right that people should be fairly paid for the work they do. But these readings also encourage us to dig deeper and explore the ways in which right worship depends on right living, and right living depends on right worship of our God of righteousness and justice. We honour God through honouring God’s people – and fair trade is an essential component of that.
God of justice,
Fill us with your passionate concern for the flourishing of all humankind.
Guide us to build fairer relationships with one another.
Inspire us in worship that flows from righteousness and justice.
Teach us to live as people of your kingdom,
for Jesus’ sake,
With thanks to the Rev. Dr Caroline Wickens, Superintendent Minister, Manchester Circuit of the Methodist Church, for providing the March weekly pointers.