Turning Over Some Tables
I’ve heard about Jesus knocking over the tables in the temple at least once a year for my entire life, but it’s only been in recent years that I’ve begun to understand what was going on in this passage of scripture (Mark 11:15-20).
The lower and outward court of the temple was a place of worship for everyone — for people from every nation. This is where the Gentile believers gathered. In spite of its purpose, the religious leaders were allowing – and participating in – a marketplace in this space. A busy market doesn’t exactly provide a worshipful ambiance. Not only that, but people who had heavy loads to carry through the city were darting through the temple courts as a shortcut. Basically – the religious leaders were not treating this part of the temple as a sacred space, even though it was the only sacred space the Gentile believers were allowed. This spoke loud and clear to the Gentiles that they didn’t matter, that their worship didn’t matter, that they were absolutely less-than the Jewish believers.
To make matters even worse – the marketplace wasn’t even a fair value market place. The moneychangers and the people selling sacrificial animals were overcharging, ripping people off. They were taking advantage of the believers who had to travel a long distance from foreign lands. Jesus called them thieves.
This part of the temple was supposed to be a sacred space of worship, but those in power had allowed it to become defiled for their own gain. The Gentiles couldn’t worship there. The foreigners were being taken advantage of there.
Then Jesus showed up.
Jesus walked into the temple courts and turned over the tables. As he dumped their merchandise and money boxes, he recited Isaiah 56:7 to them: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Then he rebuked them, “But you have made it a den of thieves.”
Jesus called out and corrected the selfish exclusivity and abuse of power of the religious leaders. Jesus saw the poor, the disenfranchised, the foreigners. Jesus saw those who had been shoved to the margins, those who had been left out of community. Jesus saw the people who were overlooked – or worse, intentionally abused by the system. He saw the people, and he reinforced their worth. He had compassion on them; he advocated for them and their value to God.
Jesus saw the corruption, and he wanted no part of it.
This made the religious leaders furious and terrified. They immediately wanted to kill Jesus because “the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.” Jesus threatened the power structure of the day. He disrupted the systems that took advantage of the poor and the foreign travelers.
Jesus’ inclusivity threatened the men who had been gatekeeping for their own gain.
This passage of scripture brings up some questions in my mind and heart.
1. How do I participate in or benefit from the exclusion of others? Am I guarding the gates to keep certain other people out of faith communities? Do I somehow profit from someone else’s “othering”?
2. What am I doing to disrupt the systems that take advantage of the poor or marginalized? How am I following Jesus’ example of inclusivity?
3. What people are the religious leaders trying to quiet today? Who threatens the power structure of the Church? Whose teachings of inclusion are a threat to the men in religious power? Perhaps these people are most like Jesus. Perhaps I should seek out the table-turners who are speaking up about abuses of power and exclusivity. Perhaps those are the teachers I should be drawn to and learn from.
God, give us wisdom to know when it’s time to upend some tables and the courage to be like Jesus.