What I’m Thinking: Tossing Tables

Jesus entered the temple, saw the moneychangers and the cattle sellers, and started tossing tables around. He would probably do the same today… for what?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the second chapter of John (John 2:13-22). It’s a familiar story, although its location in John’s Gospel may feel a little unfamiliar. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story, in fact, during Holy Week, during the last week of Jesus’ life, during Jesus’ only visit (in those Gospels) to Jerusalem.

In John’s Gospel, however, Jesus visited Jerusalem more than once, which would, in fact, have been typical for a faithful Jew of the first century. But John places it immediately following what John describes as the first of Jesus’ signs, the transformation of water into wine. Then comes this story – and you’ve been wondering what it is – it is the account of Jesus enter the temple, finding the money changers and the cattle sellers and the sheep dealers and the pigeon providers and chasing them away and spilling the money and overturning the tables.

There are so many places that one can go with this story. There are just so many ways in which it resonates with us.

I can’t help place it in relationship to this growth of “Christian” nationalism in the Unites States in these days, because of the way in which the civic and the sacred have been muddled and confused.

I also can’t help noting that we do not build tall buildings for places of worship. We build tall buildings as places of commerce. What is it that people see upon our skylines? They see the proclamation of our wealth. They do not see the proclamation of our piety.

There are all sorts of problems, to be truthful, about proclaiming piety. Even to put the two words together doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but… the proclamation of our wealth? That has even greater problems, doesn’t it?

So what are we to do with this story?

We are to note that for Jesus there is a first principle of the sacred, that the worship of God, the relationship with God, that is primary. It is not to be adulterated by, it is not to be distracted by, it is not to be hidden by the mechanisms of commerce, convenience, and certainly not nationalism.

I’ve been trying to think of other occasions where Jesus might have flipped tables over the centuries. I’m sure he would have flipped tables the first time one Christian leader decided to “cast out” another one over a disagreement on theology. I’m sure that Jesus would have flipped tables the first time a “Christian” emperor decided to use force against people who didn’t believe in the same way. I think that Jesus would have flipped tables the first time a Christian leader decided to take bribes in order to pray for the soul of somebody’s departed. I think Jesus would have flipped tables when they gathered and “prayed” in the Senate chambers after having beat police officers, threatened lawmakers, ransacked their desks.

I can think of other examples. I’m sure you can, too.

It’s worth asking whether Jesus’ actions on that day reflected the wrath of the human Jesus or the wrath of God. And I think in this instance… I think in this instance they are probably one and the same, that Jesus’ human soul was deeply offended by this covering that hid God’s compassion and grace, and that God also was angered at the way that others’ piety and faith would be taken advantage of for people’s profit.

May we refrain from doing the same.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on March 1, 2021

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2 Comments

  1. by Suzanne Elaine Smith

    On March 1, 2021

    I had just read the attached before our summary for sunday .

  2. by Suzanne Elaine Smith

    On March 1, 2021

    Monthly posting of the Declaration of Mennonites for the Preservation of Religious Diversity:
    We are Mennonites who oppose Christian evangelism programs and other forms of religious proselytizing. Sharing one’s journey with an interested inquirer is fine, as long as the initiative comes from the inquirer and efforts to proselytize are off the table. But it is unethical, in our view, to approach folks who haven’t solicited your input and try to get them to trade in their religion for yours.
    We ask missionaries this question: How would you feel if people from other religions moved into your neighborhoods and tried to convert you and your children?
    We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. We think the world would be poorer if all adherents of other religions were converted to Christianity. Therefore, we reject mission boards and mission agencies, no matter how well-meaning they claim to be. “Charity work” performed under the banner of “missions” always has religious proselytization as part of its agenda, and therefore is not true charity at all. “Mission work” performed under the banner of “charity” amounts to proselytization by subterfuge. Sending “teachers” to Asia who are actually missionaries-in-disguise is shady churchwork.
    We believe that the proselytizing of non-Christians was not part of the original Anabaptist program. When the Anabaptists went out and invited people to join their movement, they weren’t attempting to convert Jews or Turks or other non-Christians. They were trying to radicalize fellow Catholics. That’s intra-faith persuasion, not proselytization. Most Anabaptists were advocates of religious liberty for everyone. Anabaptist leader Felix Manz said people of other faiths should be left undisturbed to practice as they saw fit. While the Anabaptists were seeking religious freedoms for themselves, they believed non-Christians should enjoy those freedoms as well.
    We are universalists. In our view, everyone who has ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. We reject the notion of a vengeful deity. We do so using the reasoning powers that God gave us. For us the concept of eternal punishment is irrational. How can pacifists believe in a God who would damn her own children? We assert, with Anabaptist leader Hans Denck, that compassion and mercy are God’s defining attributes. Any teachings or texts that contradict these attributes carry no weight with us.
    We reject the authenticity of the so-called “Great Commission.” We just don’t think Jesus said it, because:
    1. Statements attributed to the post-crucifixion Jesus must be called into question, for obvious reasons. Every version of the Commission in the gospels was uttered by Jesus after he supposedly rose from the dead.
    2. The global scope of the Commission is contradicted by Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 10:5-6 to steer clear of Gentiles. The activities of the historical Jesus did not extend beyond Israel.
    3. In Mark, the Commission is found in the “Marcan appendix” (16:9-20), which wasn’t part of the original version of Mark. In other words, the earliest version of the earliest gospel did not contain the Commission.
    4. Jesus’s brother James (head of the Jesus community in Jerusalem) didn’t know about a mandate to reach Gentiles. If Jesus had told the disciples to “make followers of all nations,” wouldn’t his brother know about it? Sure he would. The impulse behind the Commission didn’t come from Jesus, but from the early churches.
    We are people who’ve come to know and love folks from many paths: Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sufi, Native American, atheists, agnostics, and more. We recognize the common human qualities that make us all more alike than different: compassion, mercy, empathy, humility, forgiveness, generosity, etc. These qualities, no matter where they’re found, emanate from the same place: The Source of All Truth and Beauty in the Universe.
    Therefore, we call on Christian missionaries to:
    1. Renounce the doctrine of eternal punishment as inconsistent with God’s mercy and compassion.
    2. Change their mandate from “conversion of the masses” to “the preservation of mass diversity.”
    3. Make amends to people harmed by missionary practices, including “missionary kids.”
    4. Send representatives around the globe to investigate the truth and beauty in other religions, and bring new insights back for the edification of folks at home. Without proselytizing.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    A publication of the Marginal Mennonite Society Tract & Propaganda Department. Last revised Jan. 16, 2021. Written by Charlie Kraybill, MMS page administrator.

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