It’s one of our favorite stories in the Bible. I don’t know if it’s because it makes Jesus seem cool, or if it’s because of our current flavor-of-last-month Driscoll-infused manly version of Christianity, or if it’s just a great story with lots of application. But whatever the reason, Jesus walking into the temple and overturning the merchants’ tables is one of those stories I’ve heard preached dozens of times, in dozens of ways, usually culminating in the final question, What tables does Jesus want to overturn in your life?
And while the answer to that in my own life is probably, “Plenty” if not simply “All”, I’d like to just for a second take it as less of a metaphor, and more of a thing. That actually happened. You know, as if we actually believed that this guy, who was supposed to be the foretold leader of Israel’s religion, came into their religious establishments and instead, threwdown. (Yep, threwdown. Hey, I grew up in the ’90’s.)
My guess is that the religious folks, the churchgoers, thought they had it right. In life, there’s usually a few despots purposefully using religion or church for their own gain; but most of us honestly think we have it right. And I’m picturing right now being all excited to invite our fearless leader Jesus to my church. And while I’m filling out a Visitor name tag for him, I turn around and he’s quietly tearing up brochures, tossing ministry tables, walking into the supply closet and emerging with a ladder to climb up and take down banners. Maybe if we left him long enough, he’d have gotten out the scissor lift, and we hear this “Beep! Beep! Beep!” and there’s all our parishioners scrambling to get their chairs out of the way as Jesus cuts a wake through the sanctuary on the fully extended scissor lift, smashing LED stage lights with his weapon of choice, which I can only imagine would be a Duesenberg guitar.
And I wonder what my first thought would be. Probably not, Oh man, we’ve had it wrong all this time! My first thought honestly would probably be, This Jesus guy is out of control! Where’d my religion go? (I know, it’s not a “religion”, it’s a “relationship.”) So then, where’d my comfy you-hold-me-now-all-things-work-together-for-my-good relationship go? We’re stoked to raise our hands and say He’s mighty to save, but what if He’s mightily trying to save us from ourselves?
Most commentaries relay that when Jesus overturned those tables, it wasn’t just because they were selling things in church. It was because they were selling things necessary for salvation at gouged prices. Which makes a lot more sense. But I can imagine there may have been those asking, “So what’s wrong with a little profit? It’s 30 AD man, culture has changed. Do you know how many hours I put into raising those doves? A workman is worth his wages!” Just like today. “Jesus, what’s wrong with those lights? Don’t smash them! Stop tearing up those books! The profits from those feed my family! Do you have any idea how many years that took to write? What’s wrong with being paid for ministry? I’m a Levite, right? I know I don’t live in the church, or spend my life making atoning sacrifices, and spend more time researching Coldplay’s lighting sequences than I do on hospital visits. But it’s the 21st century! Things have changed! Don’t burn those concert tickets! I feed my family by charging people to have an awesome worship experience with You! Is that so bad? I know Malachi says to bring the tithe into the storehouse, and our church doesn’t support any local food banks or feed any poor people. But it’s not the same as the money-changers in the temple to tell people tithing is a necessary part of their faith when that tithe goes directly to my car payment and five bedroom house and church staff lunch, is it?”
We’re on a very slippery slope now that we’ve successfully corporatized and monetized the love of Jesus. And we can’t be surprised if He loves us enough to completely overturn our current system so that we can once again experience the pure joy of Christ Messiah, and Christ Messiah alone.
I love all the good our Christian culture has done. But I still dream of a time when Jesus becomes once again more important than church. When we no longer count bad press for our lack of care and compassion, as “persecution.” When tithes go into an actual storehouse for the poor. When pastors lead by shepherding, not by attending Starbucks leadership conferences. When we no longer feel like we have to buy a concert ticket to “experience God.” When “Christian” is no longer synonymous with any political ideal. When “worship” becomes again more than just our favorite genre. When our community leaders know us more for our help of our fellow citizens than our building permit applications. When God to us is no longer a commodity, or a sports team, or that thing we’re into, but the One before whom we tremble.