If your favorite Jesus-story is how he overturned the money-changers’ tables….

For much of my Christian life, I didn’t know it, but I barely knew Jesus.
I knew him in my heart, by the Spirit, for which I’m tremendously grateful – thank you, Lord.
But I didn’t know him in the revelation we have of him, which is the gospels. That’s because the circles in which I traveled then didn’t much teach from the gospels – they preferred the “do this, don’t do that” of the epistles. I was pretty well-versed in Paul!
But when the Lord took me into the gospels, I was quite surprised, and it rearranged my thinking.
I have to remember this when I get into Internet discussions and I’m surprised by what people say about following Jesus.
There is a stream in American Christianity right now which is viscerally aggressive toward a lot of “others.” These believers want to follow Jesus with all their hearts, but the problem is the Jesus they follow is eternally driving someone out of the Temple with a whip. This Jesus is all “manned-up” and conquering and tossing out those who are so weak they’d be compassionate toward anyone whose opinions or behavior violates or ‘compromises’ the absolutes of God’s behavior chart. And that behavior chart doesn’t just include the sexually immoral or those who steal – it also includes those who’d trade Taliban for a hostage or refuse to believe that a good guy with a gun beats a bad guy with a gun every time.
Listen, I’m all for political debate and I have strong opinions (some of them diametrically opposed to the strong opinions I held 20 years ago!). But if I tell you that Jesus said his followers are to embrace “turning the other cheek” as a lifestyle, and you tell me I need to give up “drinking the Kool-Aid,” as someone did yesterday, well, you’re entitled to your opinion but Jesus did actually say that!
You have to read the gospels to know that Jesus called his followers to a very radical life, in which they were to represent the kingdom of God, the new “administration” that is coming in him, by living according to its values. And its values included, Jesus said, representing the confidence in God that it takes to turn the other cheek and to bless those who persecute us, even in loving our enemies. Which is what Jesus did in walking right up to being taken and crucified by the “kingdoms of this world.”
Jesus put no faith in the kingdoms of this world, so he refused to be pulled into debates about paying taxes. I bet that would be a surprise to some Christians!
And Jesus was in opposition to the Pharisees, who would have thought it was a matter of faith to stand up against this or that sin. So they hauled a woman “caught in adultery” (all by herself – wonder how that happened?) to Jesus and asked him to rule on whether or not she should be stoned, which was what Old Testament law required. Jesus, you recall, turned it back on them – sure, let the one without sin cast the first stone. Yes, that was a gotcha question, designed to put him in a no-win situation, which he deftly turned away by pointing out that everyone who wanted to take a stand against her sin, *had no standing to do so* as sinners themselves. (And then he, the only sinless one on the scene, said, “neither do I condemn you.”)
Instead, Jesus demonstrated outrageous compassion toward “sinners,” going and having dinner with them and gently pointing them toward the God who he represented as the father in the Prodigal Son story, the one who was watching the road for the sinner to come home. That’s the way we’re supposed to do it, fellow followers. Like that.
Jesus never, ever told us to take a stand against sin.
He did command us to love, though. To love God, with everything we’ve got. To love one another in the church, as unconditionally and sacrificially as he did – wow. To love our neighbor, which he defined using the story of the Good Samaritan. When he was done, our “neighbor” was defined as, “anyone we might have mercy on.” And to love our enemies, and pray for them when they were doing to us what enemies do! Who did Jesus leave us permission not to love? nobody.
So how did it become Christian to “good riddance” anybody? Yet it happens every day. Good riddance to those who teach what we don’t agree with (“Farewell, Rob Bell”). Good riddance to those who violate God’s standards (forgetting so do we!). Good riddance to wimpy men and assertive women (when did Jesus do that, exactly?). Good riddance to people on the other side of our politics. Rid the church of them!
And then there will be the routine reference to Jesus driving the money-changers out of the Temple at the end of a whip. Right? We’re just following Jesus!
What was Jesus doing in that story? (That ONE story?) The folks making money in the Temple were taking up space in the Court of the Gentiles, the space in the Temple where those who weren’t born into the Chosen People might approach God. And they were representing faith in God as a matter of things bought and sold: buy your sacrifice for sin here, two-for-one sale!
Jesus says, the money-changers in the Temple (surely there with official Temple support) were an obstacle to the “nations” – the peoples of the world – coming to know God (Mark 11). He was also quoting from the prophet Jeremiah, a judgment on the corrupt Temple bureaucracy and religious leadership of the time.
In other words, Jesus was furious with the *religious folks* for losing sight of their call, misrepresenting what a relationship with God was about, and standing in the way of those who might have no other way of knowing God (the Gentiles), coming to know him.
It seems to me that the story of Jesus’ driving out the money-changers gets turned back on us, if that’s the only story of Jesus we ever seem to tell. Because when that’s our main story, we’re misrepresenting Jesus, and it becomes a real stumbling block to the sinners who long to hear about the compassion of God.
Jesus’ whole representation in the gospels is of a Lord who bends low to rescue humanity which is helpless without a shepherd, people who are under the tyranny of sin for whom God is making the ultimate sacrifice. He calls us represent him with huge love and just as much compassion. It is extremely tempting to think that God wants us to ‘stand up’ for him against sin, to point out the sinners and thrown them out, to proclaim who is right and who is wrong – it’s quite heroic and feels great.
But Jesus demonstrated for us a love that knows who is wrong and right and yet calls us all to the table, to share the bread and the cup and remember how low he bent for us, even to death on a cross. And that’s the cup – not of Kool-Aid (as in nonthinking obedience to a cult). Instead, it’s the cup of the New Covenant in Christ. It’s far more powerful than all our strutting, striving and shouting, if we have the courage to know it and live it. I’m still learning.