“Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Mark 11:17
Two times, the gospels record, Jesus cleared the money changers and sacrifice sellers from the temple. History records that only during a period of three or four years, coinciding with the ministry of Jesus, did the Jewish leadership permit the forming of a market place within the temple complex. Ordinarily this market was conducted on the hillside not far from the temple but it appears that the high priest and some others had found a way to increase their share of the profits by allowing the sellers to do their business in the temple itself.
But almost more significant to our understanding of Jesus rebuke is precisely where the market was located within the temple.
Herod’s temple had three courts for three categories of worshippers: the court of the men, for the Jewish men; the court of the women, for the Jewish women and children; and the court of the gentiles, for the non-Jewish worshippers.
When the market was brought into the temple the leaders, of course, did not put it in the court of the men or the court of the women. Oh no. It was put in the court of the gentiles making it impossible for those who knew the least about God and his ways to worship, pray, or learn about him.
Knowing this context the rebuke, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” carries a specific weight.
The houses of worship we dedicate to God ought to be places where all people will find a welcome and an encouragement to join in worship. Regardless of their place of birth. Regardless of the path their lives have traced prior to the day they enter the churches doors. Regardless of the clothes, or any other adornments, they wear, God’s house is the place where when they come they will find acceptance, welcome, and fellowship. It’s not for us for personal gain, or personal preference to rob them of the welcome God would give them.