Expressions of Jesus in Our Time: Table Turning and Conflict
Mark 11: 15 – 19
- Prelude – How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings, Arr. by Gerald Peterson, Pauline Olsen, Organist
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 2236 – “Gather Us In,” by Marty Haugen; Dave Herr, Hymn Leader, Donna Grubbs, Pianist
- Special Music – “You Are Mine,” by David Haas, Carlos Xavier, Flautist
- Scripture – Mark 11:15-19, Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Sermon – “Expressions of Jesus in Our Time: Table Turning and Conflict,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 2172 – “We Are Called,” by David Haas, Dave Herr, Hymn Leader, Donna Grubbs, Pianist
- Postlude – “Living for Jesus,” by Gerald Peterson, Pauline Olsen, Organist
Overt, loud, sometimes violent actions; finger-pointing, often visceral conflict seems to surround us at every moment of every day. For some, it’s about politics. For others, it’s about belief or religion. For others, it’s about a clinic for addicts. For others, it’s about family or family decisions. For others, it seems to center on the acceptance or lack thereof others. For even others, it’s about what we can or cannot do. The degree to which so many now disagree seems greater than any time I’ve known, maybe outside the sixties civil rights movement.
I think we sometimes argue about things simply out of a need to feel more powerful or more in control, or when we feel powerless. Sometimes it’s about seeing others as needing our voice or power; or helping them overcome powerlessness. For still others, I think they simply don’t know how to disagree without getting aggressive. And yes friends, I’ve seen it in churches. I’ve seen churches get aggressive with one another; some ready to split because of any number of things like homosexuality, remodeling the facility, chosen outreach programs, and who was to be served, or not. I’ve served churches that seemed to believe that aggression was an appropriate means of disagreement.
In my first year at Sunnyside, during the premier annual event, the Lighted Farm Implement Parade, I had two parishioners almost come to blows right there at the front doors of the church. One, a man, climbed down from the seat of the stagecoach he was driving – drawn by four huge Percheron horses – screaming as he descended. The other, a woman, screamed at him from in front of the church. The hatred between these two was obvious and tangible. Church members had to step between them or they would have come to blows.
Yup, even in a church. I’ve had some try to utilize the scripture you heard today as a justification for actions that I believe Jesus would have certainly seen as inappropriate.
So, do you believe that the scripture Kathleen read this morning gives Christians permission, motivation, or even inspiration to lose their temper, take violent or aggressive actions because of what they believe to be righteous and appropriate indignation?
I believe there is a big difference between righteous indignation and overt violence. But it seems as though the world is choosing the latter right now. I’ve seen it everywhere; on the news, the internet, in the papers, and on the radio. It is everywhere. And what about the greater church? We’re ready to split, or so it seems. There is also now a movement to create a day of Christian righteous indignation. It’s called “Table Turning Tuesday,” and practiced the Tuesday after Palm Sunday as an added element to Holy Week. I want to touch on some of that but first, let’s look at scripture.
There are very few accounts of Jesus getting passionately angry; at least angry enough to take violent action. We see him getting frustrated. We hear his anger focused toward the Temple authorities and Pharisees. Yet even in his most passionate outbursts, this account in the Temple courtyard gives us a whole new understanding of the depth of his emotion. It also seems to be a vital story for each of the gospel writers, as it is in all four. In the gospel of John, it’s so important that it’s placed at the beginning, in chapter two. So, let’s go a bit deeper and see if we can unwrap this as we explore what it may mean for us today. Let’s start with The Temple. My hope is that going over some of this will add depth to the meaning.
The Temple in Jerusalem was built to allow followers to honor and worship an all-powerful God. Each element within the Temple moved Jews closer and closer to the power of God. Each had a purpose and each section allowed for a deeper connection. There were four distinctive parts. Before entering the Temple itself, there were the lower outer gates, reached by walking through a community market place (but not where they sold the animals for sacrifice). Once through you would climb up a large stairway. These stairs were called “The Teaching Steps.” Having gone up those steps you would then walk through a beautiful long, roofed portico. This was the normal official entrance into the Temple compound for those who were not priests or high-level officials.
Once through the roofed portico, you would enter a large area that literally surrounded the other aspects of the Temple. This was the outer courtyard. The initial part of this courtyard was probably 100 feet across and 300 feet wide. Think about the size of a football field. It was covered in beautiful flagstone, had trees and plants that added to the beauty, and offered places of shade for solitude and rest. It was built to be a place where you could prepare yourself to enter the inner courtyard of the Temple. It was beautiful and peaceful by design.
From there, to enter the inner courtyard of the Temple, you would have to make your way through the width of the outer courtyard, walk up a dozen steps, and finally enter the inner courtyard. In that inner courtyard was what was called, “The Horned Altar.” It was huge and burning. This is where sacrifices were offered. There was also a huge Laver (think 10-foot wide baptismal font) for ritual cleansing, and a dozen priestly cleansing stations where, after offering a blood sacrifice the priests would wash in preparation for the next offering. From there you would come to the Temple itself.
Huge wooden doors protected the inner Temple area. Once inside there were another four areas specific to worship. One was where the priests and worshippers could gather.
There were large granite pillars, enormous candelabras, a mercy seat, a sacred place for the scrolls, and then steps that moved deeper into the Temple separated by a heavy leather curtain, through which was the altar of incense. From that inner room was another. It was never entered and guarded by a thicker, larger, more beautifully sown leather curtain. That was the Holy of Holies. It was the center of God’s essence and power and contained the Ark of the Covenant. From there God’s power permeated all other aspects of the Temple compound. I share all of that so we get a picture in our heads of the overwhelming beauty and grandeur, all created for the singular purpose of worshipping God. Now back to the events of this day.
In the case of this story, Jesus had walked up the teaching steps, through the covered portico, and into the outer courtyard. Immediately, in the front edges of the courtyard, he would have been assaulted by the smells; confronted by the tables of the money changers, and overwhelmed by the sounds of what had turned into a market place. The role of the moneychangers was to exchange normal coinage for temple coinage – always for a price, some of which would be pocketed by the exchangers. From there, he would be able to see the animal market, where, depending on your economic status, you would find a booth where your sacrificial animal could be purchased. Utilizing the Temple coinage, you could then buy the animal, again at an inflated price that included what they called, “Temple Taxes.” Then, he would have seen that beyond the animal marketplace, people seeking forgiveness or favor or for the love of God, would take their purchased animal to the next station where, for a price, the priest would take the animal for sacrifice. There is more but I think you’re getting the picture.
Upon entering the place, I can only imagine what he was feeling. He saw what the Temple had become. He witnessed the exchange of hard-earned money being exchanged for Temple money at a cost, and then the “taxation” of what was supposed to be free to any Jewish family. Those occupying the courtyard were scammers. They were predators and manipulators of those coming to seek to fulfill God’s laws. These merchants were making money, and taking advantage of the sacrificial laws. And more particularly, given that approximately 97% of those coming to offer sacrifices could afford nothing more than doves (think pigeons), Mark singles out the “Dove Sellers” as the most egregious of the sellers. They preyed specifically upon the poor, and Jesus would have remembered his parents as victims of these predators.
Finally, we have to remember that Jesus saw God as a benevolent Creator; as one who loved His people. Jesus believed God sought health and wholeness in those who loved Him. But here, at the Temple, these religious leaders were not only hypocrites, but they were also the worst kind of criminal. They were becoming rich on the backs of those who were simply trying to do what they thought God expected of them. Now, are you getting the gist of why he got so angry?
Jesus lost his temper. He turned over the tables of the money changers, then moved deeper into the courtyard, where he made a whip to drive them out…as many as he could, both humans and animals. You can hear him, anger in his eyes, and passion in his hands in the form of the whip. “My Father’s house is a house of prayer; you’ve made it into a den of thieves.”
Now, it’s with all of that in mind that we are able to come to terms with what it means for us. I think for many of us, the whole idea of being confrontational, and particularly turning the tables on anyone is really tough for us. But we have to remember, Jesus didn’t turn the tables out of spite. His anger was centered on the fact that they, along with the Temple authorities, were not only prospering on the backs of the poor, but were very literally abusing the poor for their own gain. But the confrontation goes much deeper. The passion we see in this story is focused on those who would abuse their power, particularly a power that was given to them by God. His anger was focused on those who had no voice, who could and would not complain, and those who would simply accept that this was how life was to be. God had chosen them to be poor, or abused, or ostracized, or stricken. Jesus saw himself as their champion; one who would not only stand up for them, but offer them hope, love, acceptance, and a God who wasn’t seeking to punish them. He sought to create a space for them where they could find God, see God, worship God, love God in the ways God intended. In other words, Jesus saw his role as one who was to create systemic change where change was needed. In this case, it was in the Temple. I wonder where it’s needed today.
We are living in a time of political name-calling, finger-pointing, and deep-seated wrangling. We are in a time of massive and often violent confrontations, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, police brutality, of not wearing a mask as a constitutional right, of using weapons to express anger. It’s a time where whatever my opinions may be, I’m right and any who would disagree with me are wrong. It’s a time of confrontation; of being judged, and at times, being victims.
Politically, the whole idea of “crossing the aisle” in the political arena has moved from a form of discussion and potential compromise to a form of political betrayal. There is so much more that could be said here, but we have to ask, where does that leave us?
Friends, as Christians we have a few mandates that come into play here. The first I would hold up are the Beatitudes. If we’re practicing those nine elements; elements that include things like understanding our own spiritual poverty and seeking to do something about it; feeling mercy and compassion for those around us; loving our neighbor, and continually seeking to be peacemakers, maybe that’s a beginning.
Turning to the writer of Galatians and the whole idea that out of our relationship with Christ come what he calls the Fruit of the Spirit; the fruit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and ending with self-control. If we’re doing the self-examination required as disciples, only then can we gain a clearer picture of what it means to be followers of Jesus and where righteous indignation is needed, or, in other words, where table-turning is needed. For me, I will always seek to rescue those who are in relationships of abuse, who see themselves as powerless, without a voice, or deserving of the abuse. My goal will always be to create the kind of systemic change where acceptance of abuse is overturned. For others, it may be a different population. But within the mandates of loving our neighbor, loving our neighbor may be best played out by creating systemic change while seeking to create opportunities for peace in those who aren’t able to find any. And isn’t that also the role of the church.
So, what are those things that are assaulting your senses of what God desires or what Christ might be seeing? For Jesus, I believe it was out of his love of God, and his love of neighbor that he sought to confront those who were abusing both. It was only on this issue, in this location that he took it as far as he did. So, with that in mind comes the question, as Christian disciples are we doing the same? Just some fodder for discussions as we head through the rest of summer and on into the fall season.
Let’s pray together…