Theme: The Secularization of Religion
This week’s lessons contrast the unbelief and unrighteous behavior of the religious leaders with the humble dependence of those who came to Jesus in faith.
Scripture: Matthew 21:12-17
When we continue to trace the theme of money through Matthew’s Gospel, we see that there was also instruction in Jesus’ words for the sending out of the twelve that you have in the tenth chapter. He told them on that occasion not to be concerned about money, not to take an extra cloak with them or an extra pair of shoes, but, rather, to trust the Lord to provide these things through the people to whom they would minister and in whose homes they would stay.
There’s the story of the temple tax. It’s raised in chapter 17, and there’s a reflection of it in chapter 22. We studied the story of the rich young man, a very clear case of Matthew analyzing the dangers of money and what happens when you care more about money than you do about Jesus. There’s the story of the workers in the vineyards, in the twentieth chapter, and also the story of the talents in chapter 25. There’s also the account of the anointing at Bethany and how Judas protested against that when he said, “Well, why wasn’t that ointment sold and then we could have used the money to give to the poor.” Of course he wasn’t concerned about the poor at all; but what he was concerned about was the money, to which he would help himself.
There’s a story of Judas returning the money that he had gotten in order to betray Jesus in Matthew 27:1-10. This is the only Gospel of the four that tells that Judas wanted to give the money back. And then there’s the story told in the twenty-eighth chapter at the very end that concerns the payoff to the guards who were supposed to watch the tomb. They knew about the resurrection, and those who were in authority gave them money to keep them quiet, and told the guards to instead say that the disciples came during the night while they were asleep and stole his body away.
That’s really a remarkable number of stories, and I don’t even pretend that I’ve gotten them all. But when I listed them I went back and I counted the number of verses that are given to that theme. I counted 111 verses in all. And then I thought, “I wonder what percentage that is in the Gospel as a whole?” So I went back and counted all the verses in the Gospel, which was just over a thousand. That comes out almost exactly to ten percent. That’s really remarkable, isn’t it? In this great Gospel with all the themes there are to talk about, Matthew in the way he has put the material together gives ten percent of the time to talking about money in one way or another.
I ask the question, “Why does he do that?” I think, of course, that one easy and obvious answer is that Matthew had been a tax collector, and he certainly understood about money. As a former tax collector he had been captivated by money and was trying to make a lot of it and no doubt had been a wealthy man. But then he had been called from that by Jesus and had found the greater joy of following him. I think that he had a sensitivity to the subject, which led to his naturally including stories about it.
But when I analyzed it a little further I came to think that this is not really the primary reason why he tells so many of these stories. Rather, it is because Matthew perceived, perhaps because of his background, that this problem of money really is a serious problem, and it’s something that was hindering the expansion of the gospel in his day. It’s something that had kept individuals from coming to salvation during the days of Jesus Christ. And, if I may say so, it is exactly the same today. Perhaps it’s even more so today for us living as we do in such a materialistic culture.
All that is by way of introduction. When we come to the story of the cleansing of the temple we find that Jesus is particularly indignant. You see when he was dealing with the rich young man he wasn’t indignant but, rather, sad, because here was a man who loved money more than the Lord himself. And we’re told that the young man went away sad because when Jesus explained to him what the cost of discipleship really was in his case, he was unwilling to pay the price. Jesus wasn’t indignant in that story, but here he is. And you say, “Well, obviously that’s what makes this story distinct.” And why is that? Because in this case the love of money was desecrating the temple. That meant, if we would put it in terms that we might use today, Jesus was experiencing the secularization of religion.
Now when we say that we understand that we don’t mean by it that religion never has anything to do with money. It obviously is not true. In 2 Corinthians 7 and 8 the Apostle Paul is talking about money, and he’s saying that there are proper ways to handle it, and it’s needed for Christian work. There’s nothing wrong with money in itself. But it is a great danger. It’s a great danger outside of the church, and it’s a great danger inside the church as well. We’ve seen that, especially in some of the more popular ministries. The ministries in many cases are popular because they’re visible through television. In addition to the sins we hear about is the fact that the medium itself requires the accumulation of large amounts of money. And so that which ought to be offered freely to men and women is actually sold to them in a format in which a great deal of the time is spent simply trying to raise funds. That’s why money is a danger not only outside the church, but inside it, and it was certainly a danger here in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus Christ.
Why does Matthew include so much of Jesus’ teaching about money?
How was religion being secularized in Jesus’ day?
Reflection: From the study, we learned that money is a great danger inside the church. Give some examples of how this is true.