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Table of Contents
Focus Text: John 2:13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Focus Text: John 2:13-22
“Jesus also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’”
Scripture Commentary from Modern Day Moneychangers
“In response to seeing the moneychangers in the temple, Jesus goes on a rampage, overthrowing the moneychangers’ tables and rebuking them for turning holy ground into a marketplace. This is a strong reaction, especially from one who usually displayed remarkable patience with lepers, prostitutes and even tax collectors.”
Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Hope Morgan Ward, Bishop of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church
“It is our high calling to create fiscal policies that are wholesome and life-giving. In Lenten humility, let us follow Jesus in cleansing marketplace distortions and in creating economic policies that are just and good.”
Personal Vignette from Too Much Month at the End of the Paycheck
“In a neighborhood like ours, where you don’t have a bank within walking distance, you will see within a three-block radius four payday lenders. I’ve noticed the check cashers have turned over to payday lending because they get more regular business: you go in this Friday and borrow money, and then in two weeks you’re right back in again.”
Payday lending (sometimes called cash advance) is the practice of using a post-dated check or electronic checking account information as collateral for a short-term loan. These loans are structured so that borrowers typically cannot pay them off, and must keep renewing them for months on end. The interest payments—about $50 each pay period for a $300 loan—never reduce the loan principal.
You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.
O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.
For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; they catch human beings. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
Scriptural Commentary on John 2:13-22
The year is 32 AD in the bustling city of Jerusalem. It is Passover season, and the marketplace is crowded with Jewish families from all over the Roman Empire coming to worship at the temple. According to custom, each family is expected to give an offering to God, usually a dove, lamb, or other small livestock. Abraham, a manual laborer from Galilee, owns no livestock. As he and his wife make the journey, they become anxious as they watch fellow travelers herd their future sacrifices along the road. “We can get a lamb in Jerusalem,” his wife assures him. She is right. When they arrive at the temple, hawkers are waiting for them on the temple grounds, advertising animals at many times the usual market price. “It costs too much,” says Abraham’s wife, dismayed. But they have no choice: worshipping without the customary sacrifice is unthinkable.
Abraham is fictitious, but this scenario is based on historical facts. Especially during the Passover season, temple merchants profited by selling sacrificial animals at bloated prices. In addition, merchants called “moneychangers” would exchange travelers’ money into shekels, the local currency for Jerusalem. The moneychangers typically pocketed a large percentage of each exchange.
The dilemma of payday victims is strikingly similar to the ancient Jewish travelers: to meet a need, the most vulnerable people pay more than the well off. We don’t have to look far to understand how Jesus felt about financial exploitation of the poor. In response to seeing the moneychangers in the temple, Jesus goes on a rampage, overthrowing the moneychangers’ tables and rebuking them for turning holy ground into a marketplace. This is a strong reaction, especially from one who usually displayed remarkable patience with lepers, prostitutes and even tax collectors.
Adapted from “Moneychangers in the Temple” by Delvin Davis, Center for Responsible Lending (http://www.responsiblelending.org/allies/faith-and-credit/Modern-Day-Usury-The-Payday-Loan-Trap.pdf, p. 4)
Pastoral Reflection on John 2:13-22
Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple. . . – John 2:15
I agreed to testify before the legislative committee in another state on the subject of predatory lending. The issue before us was expansion of payday lending. I was present because it was very clear to me: predatory lending practices targeting those desperate for money is an offense, an injustice, a sin.
As I took a chair to await my opportunity to give witness, I introduced myself to the man in the chair beside my own. He asked why I was present. I responded, “I am the Bishop of the United Methodist Church.”
He responded, “I am a Methodist, and I run a payday lending business in my town.”
Side by side we sat in the legislature: two people of faith. Side by side, two witnesses with diametrically opposing views. I wondered how he could reconcile his faith and his business, and so I asked him how he could engage in this business as a Christian.
He answered simply, “I help people who need money. They cannot get a loan anywhere else. Many of them cannot repay. In order to stay in business, I have to charge high rates to cover numerous defaults. I provide a service. They are desperate. I am there to help them.”
“Help them?!” I responded. “How can an exorbitant rate of interest help them?”
“Have you ever been in a payday lending business?” he asked. I confessed that I had not.
Then he said, “When you have visited my business, and seen what I do, and the people I help, you and I can talk. I have spent a lot more time in your church than you have spent in my business.” He turned his attention to the proceeding in the room, leaving me to ponder his observation.
His observation stung. He was right. I have never been in a payday lending office. I have driven by such places, casting my eye upon them with disdain. He has been in my world. I have not been in his world.
The conversation led me to repentance. My repentance was not a turning from my conviction that predatory lending is unacceptable, unjust, victimizing. My repentance was a realization that I live at a distance from those for whom the predatory lender is the only option.
I received an interesting overture from a member of one of our churches. She shared that she has read of leaders who are creating through United Methodist churches an organization granting low-interest loans for people who need financial assistance. She expressed it clearly: rather than simply oppose predatory lending, they have decided to offer an alternative.
I am humbled again, this time by her idea. I repent of my judgment, offered in theory. I repent of condemnation, extended across safe distance. I repent of my failure to help people who lack access to what they need.
Jesus saw money changers and merchants in the Temple. The place of worship and praise, humility and offering, had become a place of buying and selling. The dramatic degradation of this place required a dramatic response. Jesus made a whip of cords and drove out the sellers along with their cattle, sheep and doves. He overturned the tables and poured out the coins of the money-changers.
The marketplace mentality of our world grieves the heart of God. Those who have the resources and the power withhold access from those with few resources and little power.
The economic patter continues: Desperation leads to unwise choices. Unwise choices lead to the prisoning confines of debt. People are trapped in webs of hidden fees, escalating interest, and multiplying costs.
Our life together is a gift of God. This life together is to be cherished and cultivated so that it does not become a grotesque misshaping of assets and debt, a distortion of God’s intent for fullness of life for all people.
It is our high calling to create fiscal policies that are wholesome and life-giving. In Lenten humility, let us follow Jesus in cleansing marketplace distortions and in creating economic policies that are just and good.
By Rev. Hope Morgan Ward, Bishop of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church
Worship Aids about Predatory Lending
In mercy, O God, you confront us and expose our sin. May we respond in spirit and in truth, confessing our failure, reclaiming our hope.
In our lust for lifeless objects and our relentless pursuit for more, we cross the line between innocent desire and masked idolatry. We seek salvation in spiritless things, worship you for our own gratification, and see ourselves and each other as mere consumers and commodities.
Forgive us, O God, for we have sinned.
In your mercy, raise us from the dead.
Breathe new life into your people. Empower us to be a prophetic community, speaking against unjust practices that prey on your children, living fully the gospel of Jesus.
Create in us a consuming passion to love and serve you. Amen.
(Adapted from Robert B. Kruschwitz, Mastering Mammon, The Center for Christian Ethics, Baylor University ; found at www.baylor.edu/christianethics/index.php?id=14744)
Prayer of Confession
Most gracious God – we call upon your name and seek your mercies.
We know Lord that we are not worthy of your faithfulness, for we have been unfaithful. Help us to walk with wisdom.
We confess to you, O Lord, that we often lose sight of what is important – that we cheat you, our brothers and sisters, and ourselves, because of our thoughtlessness, our fear, our greed, our pride.
We have offended you, O God – serving masters other than you. We confess that we allow the love of money to cloud our judgment. We confess that we ignore the plight of our low-income brothers and sisters who become victims of greed and usury.
Hear our prayer to you; forgive, and help us to walk with wisdom.
We confess to you, O Lord.
…………… (silent prayer) …………..
Forgive us O Lord, and help us to walk with wisdom.
Touch us and make us whole. Amen.
(adapted from Kir-Shalom, a lectionary resource website, www.spirit-net.ca/sermons/c-or25-98.html)
Prayer of Confession
Tender and Fierce God,
whose work is justice and whose delight is mercy,
forgive us for ignoring the cries of workers
who labor under the tyranny of harassment, violence and poverty.
Free us from greed
that comforts our bodies and eats away at our souls.
Free us for a life of joyful resistance
to evil, injustice and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves;
through Jesus Christ our only Lord. Amen.
(from Interfaith Worker Justice, www.nicwj.org/pages/materials.LIP2000txt.html)
When Greed Blinds Us
We acknowledge your manifold gifts to us – among them the gift of life, the gift of love, and the gift of the sacraments. Yet we confess that too often we allow greed to blind us. When greed blinds us, we cease to rejoice in your gifts; we no longer acknowledge your generosity. When greed blinds us, we unwittingly condone the consistent and flagrant injustices that transpire around us daily. When greed blinds us, we legitimate practices such as predatory lending, which serves to prey upon the poor and the ‘least of these.’ We ignore its stranglehold grasp on those less fortunate, blindly categorizing it as part of the ‘free market’ of our depraved society. When greed blinds us, we accept this unrestrained usury as a necessary part of the economy, all the while ignoring its devastating effects upon those merely trying to survive. Forgive us, benevolent God, when greed blinds us. Remind us that we are called to justice – your justice – that preys not upon the weak, but rejoices in the dignity and humanity of all of your creation. Help us to speak your gospel to those in the grips of this predatory practice, and against those involved in the oppression. For it is with and through the power of the Holy Spirit that we pray, Amen.
(by Jason R. Jenkins)
Prayer for Those in Debt
Father, we pray for the many who are trapped by growing burdens of debt, who see no way out, and who despair for their future: give them courage to tackle the problems they face, clarity in taking decisions which will turn their situation around, and faith that, as they cry to you in their trouble, you will deliver them from their distress; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Children's Sermon about Predatory Lending
Taking Advantage of Anyone is Wrong
Theme: Jesus became angry when he found people taking advantage of others.
Object: Play money
Scripture: He (Jesus) scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” John 2:15b-16
Give each child money. Tell them it is a loan until they get “paid.” Then give them money to “pay” them for working all week. Then, collect your 20% interest in addition to the original loan. Ask them if what they have left is enough to pay their rent, buy groceries, etc. So if it is not enough, you borrow again, and find yourself getting deeper and deeper into debt. Explain that this is unfair, but because you don’t have any other choice, I am making you pay a lot to borrow my money.
Read the scripture.
Explain: This is one way that people may take advantage of another person who needs help. When Jesus went to the temple and saw the moneychangers and all of the greed that took advantage of people, he became angry and drove them away. You see, the moneychangers charged more than they should, and gave part of their profits to the High Priest of the temple. The moneychangers were cheating and causing people to spend more money than necessary.
This still happens today. People are often cheated by lenders who may overcharge them. Is there anything we can do about that? Lead children to understand that it is primarily the poor who get into this kind of situation. We should be angry about that, just like Jesus. We should do whatever we can to help the poor so that they will not be cheated.
Challenge: Do you have any ideas about ways to help people who are being cheated this way? This may be hard for kids, but help them to understand that knowing that this can happen and seeing the problem are one way to start.
Prayer: Jesus, we know you were mad when you found people cheating the poor. Help us to find ways that we can help to prevent this from happening today. Amen.
Suggested Hymns about Predatory Lending
Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service
United Methodist Hymnal 581
Presbyterian Hymnal 427
The Hymnal (1982) 610
Moravian Book of Worship 688
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 461
Let Justice Flow Like Streams
Evangelical Lutheran Worship 717
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ ) 588
O Jesus, Crowned with All Renown
The Hymnal (1982) 292
Quotes about Predatory Lending
Credit is a system whereby a person who can’t pay gets another person who can’t pay to guarantee that he can pay.
The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.
Money often costs too much.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is no sanctuary so holy that money cannot profane it, no fortress so strong that money cannot take it by storm.
Vignette about Predatory Lending
“God’s been good. But He has some more good than He has given me. I have four [payday lenders]. On a monthly basis I pay $350 worth of interest. That’s my car payment right there in interest. I am making two car payments, but I only have one car. In a way they are doing a favor for people, but in the long run it’s not a favor. You have to pay them to get your money back so you can pay somebody else. It’s not designed so you can get yourself together – it’s designed for you to come back to them [payday lenders].”
“Which payday lender did I use? I used five. I went because I was on disability and my check only comes at the end of the month. I told them I couldn’t pay every two weeks…I had to go to the other ones, and this is how I got hooked. I got arrangements with all of them. I owe about $1,000. It is a nightmare. I warn people if you don’t have to mess with them, please don’t. You can get hooked on them…so I warn, if you don’t have to, please don’t.”
B. Stewart Yon
“Different things were going on. My boss couldn’t make payroll, I was drawing unemployment, I had just purchased a house…the AC broke down. I had four [payday lenders] at a time. I owed $1,200. Now I owe $900. They are harassing my references, my friends about my debts. ‘Can you have T. Brown contact us? Can you have her to call?’ I am in a vicious cycle and I don’t see a way out.”
“In a neighborhood like ours, where you don’t have a bank within walking distance, you will see within a three-block radius four payday lenders. I’ve noticed the check cashers have turned over to payday lending because they get more regular business: you go in this Friday and borrow money, and then in two weeks you’re right back in again. I worry about the future of the community. And you already have a lot of people who never walk into a bank. What about the future, when banking is done [solely] online? You’ll see even more ‘unbanked’ people – the ones who don’t have a computer, don’t have a telephone.”
O. Rainey, Community Activist
Too Much Month at the End of the Paycheck: Payday Lending in North Carolina, by the Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina, The Center for Community Capitalism, Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, January 2001. Used with permission.
Contacts & Resources for Predatory Lending
The Center for Responsible Lending is a unit of the Center for Community Self-Help (Self-Help), based in Durham, NC. Self-Help is one of the nation’s leading community development lenders and has provided $3.5 billion in financing to help more than 40,000 under-served families own homes or small businesses.
The Mortgage Bankers Association’s predatory lending website contains reports and links to state and local legislative updates concerning predatory lending.
The National Consumer Law Center is a nonprofit advocacy organization that seeks to build economic security and family wealth for low-income and other economically disadvantaged Americans. We promote access to quality financial services and protect family assets from unfair and exploitive transactions that wipe out resources and undermine self-sufficiency. For over 40 years NCLC has used its expertise to write the rules of a fair marketplace.
National American Indian Housing Council promotes, supports, and upholds tribes and tribal housing agencies in their efforts to provide culturally-relevant, decent, safe, sanitary, and affordable housing for Native people in American Indian communities and Alaska Native villages. They provide training, technical assistance, research, communications and advocacy.
The North Carolina Department of Justice maintains a web page listing types of predatory lending practice and offering advice on how to avoid being victimized by predatory lending.
Facts and Reflection about Predatory Lending
- The average payday borrower has nine transactions a year. (http://www.responsiblelending.org/payday-lending/tools-resources/fast-facts.html)
- The typical payday borrower remains in payday loan debt for 212 days of the year. (http://www.responsiblelending.org/payday-lending/tools-resources/fast-facts.html)
- 12 million Americans are trapped every year in this cycle of payday loans. (http://www.responsiblelending.org/payday-lending/policy-legislation/)
- Currently about 22,000 storefront payday loan stores exist nationwide. (http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/4-alternatives-to-payday-lending-1.aspx)
- North Carolina refused to renew a payday lending exemption from the state’s 36 percent interest rate cap in 2001 when it expired, making the practice illegal again under state law. In 2005 and 2006, the North Carolina Attorney General and Commissioner of Banks enforced the law against payday lenders who tried to evade it through partnerships with out-of-state banks, forcing them to follow the law or leave the state. However, current law allows small consumer loans from banks with interest rates between 25% and 54%. (http://www.responsiblelending.org/media-center/press-releases/archives/north-carolina-consumers-don-t-miss-payday-lending.html; https://www.ncchurches.org/2011/05/raleigh-report-may-20-2011/)
- Many other states still allow payday lending. The federal government places a 36 percent interest rate cap on loans to military families, but allows payday lending to other citizens. (http://www.responsiblelending.org/payday-lending/policy-legislation/)