Disrupting the Temple

Third Sunday in Lent

Disrupting the Temple
At a student lie-in at the White House, organized by Teens for Gun Reform, in February 2018.

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!” —John 2:15-16

Growing up, I remember the story of Jesus overturning the money changers’ tables presented as an example of Jesus’ humanity—a flawed reaction to something that upset him. “Even Jesus got angry sometimes!” My young mind pictured Jesus soon after apologizing and helping the merchants clean up. As a young, white Christian girl I’d been subtly (and sometimes blatantly) taught that politeness was my greatest virtue. But politeness is only an empty measure of how well one follows social expectations; it does not represent kindness or any moral fortitude. The story of Jesus cleansing the temple appears in all four Gospels, and in none of them does it say Jesus felt bad for his actions. In fact, John 2:13-22, the lectionary reading for this third Sunday of Lent, tells us Jesus takes time to make a whip of cords before entering the temple in Jerusalem to confront the money changers and merchants. Jesus didn’t succumb to a fit of rage—he planned a disruption.

Jews worshipping at the temple needed animals for sacrifice and money for tithing. The Rome-appointed religious leaders often disallowed animals brought from home, and Roman money was not accepted, which meant worshippers needed to have “approved” animals to sacrifice and their Roman money needed to be exchanged for Jewish currency. The temple leadership took advantage of worshippers by charging exorbitant prices for animals and currency exchange. And because of Passover and the great number of worshippers, the sales likely spilled outside of designated marketplace areas and into holy spaces of worship.

Was Jesus protesting unholy practices in holy space? The mistreatment of those trying to practice the laws of their faith? The power structure set up to hurt the most to benefit a few? The church being used as an instrument of the Empire? There are arguments for each. The point is he didn’t like what was happening and made sure others knew it.

Right now, high school students in South Florida are letting the world know they want stricter gun laws. In the wake of yet another mass shooting at an American school, they are speaking, marching and confronting their lawmakers, some even face to face, and telling them to prioritize children’s lives over campaign contributions.

You’ll hear some argue that these are just angry children behaving emotionally, that they’re overturning tables as a reaction. But that’s not what’s happening. They are organizing. They are making their whips of cords. They are confronting powers and telling them #NeverAgain. They are bravely entering temples of power and telling those in power that their priorities are wrong.

This Lent season, may our prayers go to those bravely standing for what is right and just—even if it upsets the temple.

Tara Barnes is editor of response.

Posted or updated: 3/2/2018 12:00:00 AM
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