holy week 2017: turning over tables in the temple

This year I decided to blog through Holy Week. Yesterday we started with Palm Sunday and our love of a certain kind of king. I find it fascinating that the next thing Jesus did after he entered Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers of “Hosanna!” was go straight to the temple and start turning over tables.  Matthew 21:12-15 describe it this way:

Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 1He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were indignant.”

Turning over tables.

Calling out those profiting from religion.

Rebuking those taking advantage of the system.

Healing the blind and the lame.

Watching the leaders become indignant.

Here are some other words for indignant: resentful, furious, incensed, miffed, displeased, upset, boiling, bent out of shape.

Jesus tended to do that to the religious leaders, and ultimately it’s what lead to his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.

The message in this story is something that a lot of us are struggling with at the moment when it comes to being followers of Jesus.

What do we do with what we feel is a complete hijack of the faith that we love?

What do we do with the religiosity that we’ve seen choke out freedom for so many?

What do we do with the ways that the “system” of Christianity is tied to money and power and resource and separation from the blind and the lame?

What do we do with the big feelings of anger and embarrassment about the values that Christianity has become known for?

I hear this comment a lot from folks who are in a different place–“Why are so many progressive or deconstructed or unraveled or not-in-church-anymore Christians so angry all the time? When are they going to get over it?”

It’s a really hard statement for me because I see where the critique is coming from. Sometimes the anger and resentment oozes out sideways and it’s hard to see the good in it.

But underneath, for a lot of folks, it’s tied to what is happening in this story. there’s a lot of deep anger floating around about the money-changers and the law-enforcers and the gate-keepers.

There’s this thing underneath our own story and experience that I think is beautiful and good–an in-our-gut belief that the gospel, the good news, has become bad news for so many, including ourselves.

That what we learned in a lot of our Christian faith wasn’t what Jesus had in mind.

That so much got added to the mix that we had to believe to belong that we aren’t sure how to untangle it all.

That money and resource and power are priorities in a faith that’s supposed to be centered on just the opposite.

That we see we might have been participating in an adventure of missing the point and we are trying to find our way to healing and freedom, the kind that Jesus brought freely to the blind and lame in this story.

Anger is hard for me, but I’m learning it’s not a sin.

Righteous anger has its place, but most everyone can find a way to make our anger righteous somehow. Add in issues of different interpretations of what justice and love look like, it can be even more tricky.

The bottom line to me today is a reminder that Jesus’ first act of Holy Week is to go straight to the place that thought it was doing right and call it for what it was–a system rigged against the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the desperate, the broken, the sick, the oppressed. 

I’m not proposing we get to do it the exact same way as Jesus, but I am reminding all of us that we’re not crazy in seeing that something’s not right about our system and the injustice it often perpetuates, the bondage it often creates, the legalism it often breeds.

Our call isn’t to pick it all apart over and over again.

Our call is to play our part in being bearers of good news, of receiving it and passing it on. I truly do believe the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better, and that our anger can be used for good in all kinds of creative and beautiful ways.

Plus, hey, when what’s happening somehow makes law-centered religious leaders indignant, we’re probably on the right track.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

2 Comments

  • Solid points! The “system”… whether that of most of our churches or of civil governments from municipal on up. I’m only peripherally involved in grave “least of these” issues like homelessness, but I have a couple observations to share from my San Diego County location. (I know you may be up on this, Kathy, bec. of your roots here, but other readers may not be.) And this is related to “systems” which privilege some and nearly lock out others. In most cases, no person or group of people sets out to make it this way purposely (other than to try to make their own situation better, sometimes in seemingly ethical, fair ways).

    Lately, despite a pretty strong local economy and a LOT of attention put, in recent years, toward helping the homeless and lowering their numbers, their numbers are actually climbing here (and I believe a lot in LA area also). Part of the reason? Very, very little affordable housing. House prices way up… rentals, even studio apartments, following. You have to make around 100K to afford (or get) a loan on even a small, lower priced home almost anywhere around, even well outside metro SD.

    There are people working on creating more “affordable housing” but it’s hard and slow. And, of course, it runs into conflicts with business interests, and is deemed too “socialist” by some. In my North County, the Interfaith Community Services, supported by a lot (of mostly “liberal”) churches, is doing some great work, and growing. But how many of us (me included) and our churches are fighting on “political” or “practical” levels re. zoning, legislating, allocating public money (God forbid any higher taxes, which the majority of owners of higher-priced homes CAN afford), creating non-profits to construct such housing, etc.?

    I realize this is not strictly “spiritual”, but I don’t think we can address the issue raised by Jesus in the Temple without working on these levels along with direct help TO the homeless and needy.

    Reply
    • thanks, howard. i apologize for my late response but i really appreciated what you shared here. i didn’t know about the rates there but i know that they are rising in a crazy horrid way here, too, and i think for the exact same reasons. affordable housing is one of the #1 needs and it just is so hard to pull off and no one wants it in their neighborhoods. i always appreciate everything you share!

      Reply

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