In today’s gospel, we get a glimpse into Jesus as a person. At times we hear that Jesus sees the needs of people and has compassion, but in this gospel story, Jesus is angry, brandishing a whip of sorts, overturning tables, and shouting. As he drives merchants from the temple, he says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” People come to the temple seeking forgiveness and to worship, and the merchants are taking advantage of this.

How did this come about? The temple was built to honor God and serve as a place for people to worship, but it has become a place where people profit from those who seek God’s love and compassion – many of whom struggle to feed their families. It is easy to misinterpret the scriptures and misunderstand what God wants from us. This is what angers Jesus. People are misrepresenting what God wants.

In our reading from Exodus, God gives the people the Ten Commandments. These commands are often referred to as “the law.” Thinking of them as laws to follow suggests we will be punished or rewarded based on our behavior. However, if we think of them as God’s attempt to teach us how to have a healthy relationship with God and one another, we can see them as a guide and as a way of life. Following God’s law needs to be a spiritual practice that enables us to live our lives in peace and unity with others.

When viewed as the do’s and don’ts to receive God’s blessings, God’s Commandments are followed for selfish reasons. They are not followed because we love God. Instead, they are followed out of fear – fear that we will not receive deliverance from God’s wrath. It is easy to take advantage of people who view following the commandments as a business exchange. “I will keep the Sabbath holy and God will reward me.” But the Commandments are given to us out of love – they are not a list of what we are to do to avoid punishment.

The merchants in the temple take advantage of the people’s fear, and so do the temple priests. Fear is a powerful motivator, and people who are afraid can be manipulated. Jesus sees that the merchants are profiting from the fear of the faithful, and knows this is part of a system of false beliefs being taught by temple leaders in order to control the people. “Give to the church or God will punish you and your family. Give to the church and you will receive God’s blessings.” This belief and the system that profits from it are what anger Jesus. He has come to teach us that God does not want us to offer gifts out of a sense of obligation or guilt – God loves us and wants our love.

This story is one of several in which Jesus challenges how the scribes, the Pharisees, and the priests are interpreting and perverting the scriptures. The gospel, the good news Jesus offers, is that the Ten Commandments and the laws of Moses are gifts of love given to us from God, rather than rules to follow in order to avoid punishment.

When asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus quotes the same lessons from Deuteronomy I read at the beginning of our Rite I service, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love, not fear, is the good news Christ offers us. The laws we find in the Old Testament need to be read with this in mind. Reading and interpreting the scriptures too literally can lead to judging others rather than caring for and about them. It is not our place to judge others. We are to love them as we love ourselves – not more than ourselves, not less – but as ourselves.

Most of the Ten Commandments are easy for us to follow – but most of us have broken a few of them often. Wanting what belongs to someone else, not keeping the Sabbath holy, worshiping false idols, and even using the Lord’s name in vain are commands most of us have trouble keeping. Keep in mind that using the Lord’s name in vain includes claiming to be doing God’s will but not actually doing it. Some refer to this as being Sunday Christians when we speak of being compassionate and then ignore the needs of others.

Making and worshiping false idols is another commandment most of us have trouble keeping. It is not talking about worshiping a statue of a false god. False idols can be anything that distracts us from what is important. Money is perhaps the most significant false idol in most of our lives. We may never feel we have enough, so we devote ourselves to getting more – making our work rather than relationships our primary focus. Or perhaps we work so we can spend money on ourselves and surround ourselves with things, good things – while neglecting others.

Keeping the commandments does benefit us. The Sabbath was not created for God, but for us. We all need time to rest and focus on our relationship with God. Putting relationships ahead of money, sharing with others, and being satisfied with what we have helps us to be thankful. We are thus rewarded for following God’s commandments by seeing how blessed we are and by feeling that sense of peace that comes to us when we are grateful.

Let us pray. Loving and gracious God, open our eyes and our hearts to what is important and help us to do those things you ask of us, not to please you, but in order to grow in love for you and love for our neighbors. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.