One incident often comes up in discussions of Jesus and the generally non-violent flavor of his teaching – the time (or two) when he overthrew money-changer’s tables in the temple compound in Jerusalem. [Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:8]
I am assuming that the reports are accurate. I would like to point out a few things – to help us avoid the idea that Jesus here promoted the kinds of violence we tend to indulge in.
- So far as we know he did not physically hurt any person or animal.
- He did not torture or kill anyone.
- He did not offer any teaching about the event or encourage anyone to imitate this particular behavior. Given his general style and priorities I assume that if he wanted to emphasize it’s significance as a “ministry” or reform technique he would have made that clear.
- He never asked anyone to do anything similar to this, either on a specific occasion or as a general principle.
- This action was directed against financial exploiters of people trying to worship God, and of those worshipers’ vulnerability in that particular setting.
- It was not directed against those who had to use the “services” of those exploiters.
- He was not trying to physically enforce his program or views, or he would have repeated the activity frequently. He would have stayed around to forcibly ensure these legal crooks did not re-establish themselves.
- It was very non-violent in the sense that no blood was spilt, no arrests made, no beating or torture practiced – not even once; such events were certainly not established as a pattern.
- In spite of this very low level of “violence”, and partly because of the rarity of this kind of action, he was making a very powerful visualization of crucial moral priorities.
- It was not Jesus’ standard procedure or on-going policy, but a very tiny proportion of his public activity over those three years.
- Thus it was not at all the focus of his work or the substance of his plan for his disciples or for the transformation of the world.
- But it did happen, and it was apparently quite intentional.
SO FOR TODAY
I. This moment of “violence” in Jesus’ life was a bloodless illustration of God’s anger at
- the worship of money-making and extortion where there is pretended focus on God, and
- the financially ripping off of the vulnerable by those with clout, in the name of the worship of God.
II. Jesus’ behavior on this occasion – or on any other – is in no way comparable to:
- men (or women) being physically abusive to their spouses, children, or others;
- invading and occupying small weak nations for no reasons or for reasons only of ego and greed (as the Romans were doing in Judea and Galilee, and we Americans are doing in Iraq);
- shooting, bombing, and torturing tens or hundreds of thousands of people to death or disability as on-going national policy;
- lying about and misrepresenting some or all aspects of a situation in order to justify any of the above violent behaviors.
JESUS DID NONE OF THOSE THINGS.
Using this incident in Jesus’ life to justify the massive violence of our presence in Iraq (or any other misuse of force in our world) IGNORES what Jesus was really doing here.
He was physically expressing very appropriate outrage. He was not arresting, torturing, or killing anyone, neither the guilty parties nor innocent bystanders. He was expressing outrage at the misuse of religion in the service of greed, and at the abuse of the common people for the same purpose.
I have no doubt that God is outraged today with some American Christians for similar reasons.
Please. If you agree with what I have written above, do not use or allow others to use this event in Jesus’ life as an argument in defense of the use of violence. Violence in our world – as in Jesus’ day – had a very different flavor than this expression of anger at hypocrisy and greed.