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A number of years ago I was the Parish Priest of St Elizabeth’s Anglican Church in Oaklands Park, just around the corner from the Marion swimming centre where we hold our Senior School swimming carnival, as it happens. The church would occasionally run a cake stall in the church court-yard. Every now and again the church, which was quite a modern building, would have the sanctuary curtained off and the rest of the church used as a voting booth for elections. Election days were great days for running the cake stall, because everyone was so depressed about voting that they would buy lots of cakes to cheer themselves up!

Unlike some of the population, I quite enjoy voting. I always annoy my wife, because I like to fill out every single box in the Senate voting, while she waits outside for me to finish. One election I was inside the Church voting when one of the local characters in the community arrived. Bob was a Vietnam war veteran. Bob was the sort of person who would knock on your door at 1am and want to have a long conversation about all his woes in life. Apart from that, I actually got on quite well with him. Election days were difficult for Bob because it was the Government, after all, who had sent him off to Vietnam. This day proved all too much and he took out his frustration by charging through the main part off the church, knocking over a few of the card-board voting booths, before heading outside, upsetting the church cake stall and pushing over one of the parishioners.

By the time I rushed out, pretty annoyed because I’d had to forgo filling out all the Senate boxes, Bob had taken off, and we were left pick up the pieces. One of the wise old parishioners said, ‘Bob probably thought he was Jesus in the Temple.’

So, was Bob right to knock over the voting booths and the cake stall? Was he being exactly like Jesus, who drove out the sheep and cattle and knocked over the tables of the money-changers in the Temple courtyard? (See John 2: 13–22)

No, I don’t think so, for the following reasons. The Temple courtyard in the days of Jesus was a place of business and much trade. There was a lot of money to be made from the pilgrims who made their way to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple. They needed to purchase animals to be sacrificed on their behalf and they needed to change their Roman coins into Temple coins in order to offer them to the priests, because the Roman coins were unacceptable to be offered in a holy place. The Roman coins were unacceptable because they contained an image of Caesar on them; you could not offer the image of Caesar in a place dedicated to God, because it would be considered a graven image. People were only allowed to worship the Lord their God and no false idol or image.

The selling of the animals, the sheep cattle and doves, and the changing of the money, allowed the sellers in the Temple courtyard to make a lot of money.

But there is a critical difference between what we were doing in our little parish church and what the sellers in the Temple courtyard were doing. They had a captive market: realistically the pilgrims could only source their animals from the authorised sellers – it was too difficult to get any others – and they had to buy the Temple coins. The Temple authorities could easily cheat: charge too much for the animals and rip-off the pilgrims with the exchange rate for the coins. It gave them an unfair advantage. You could hardly say the same about our little trading table. In fact, I would sometimes suggest to the parishioners they should charge more for their cakes and jams.

Jesus was passionately concerned for justice and fairness, that’s why he clears out the Temple with such force. It was inherently a corrupt system, favouring the wealthy, effectively restricting who could come and pray and worship God. Jesus wanted anyone to be able to worship God and he was very interested in justice and fairness.

This is our challenge too, to be concerned for justice and fairness and to be prepared to speak up and take action whenever we see it not occurring. Whenever we see injustice, we are to speak up and say, ‘No, that’s not right.’

However, it is difficult. For example, most of our clothing in Australia is made overseas. That didn’t used to be the case. We used to have quite a strong textile industry in Australia, but these days the vast majority of our clothing is made overseas. Can we be sure that the factory workers in some of these countries are being paid a fair wage? Ethical sourcing of clothing and shoes is becoming more and more important in our world. It’s interesting to me that Andrew Forrest, the Western Australian mining magnate, is focussing more and more on ethics: both in trying to stop human beings being exploited and trying to stop our environment being exploited.

The Christian Gospel (the Good News) is about forgiveness, about reconciliation, and about love. It is also about justice. It remains our challenge.

The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain