Seeing the world through a theological lens...
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written,
‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
Jesus the revolutionary, weavolutionary (1), figure has entered Jerusalem, as other Kings of Israel did, riding a donkey. After he stops to weep for the city, overflowing with compassion for the ones who did not understand the breadth and depth of God's great love, he heads for the temple.
Jesus's decision to go straight to the temple, like everything else he did, was intentional. "The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, built by Herod Antipas at the beginning of the century, was held up as the one and only place where God dwelt. We have nothing quite like it today. It combined worship, commerce, local government, execution site, and imperial control. It would resemble some massive building in Washington, DC, containing the Pentagon, the US Capitol, the White House, Wall Street, the World Bank, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, the National Cathedral, and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception—all rolled into one as God’s home on earth."(2)
The temple that indeed needs cleansing, and Jesus, in a premeditated act of civil disobedience, turns over tables and drives the moneychangers (people who would exchange local monies for temple currency- most often leaving folks shortchanged) out of the temple.
Often when we imagine this scene, we picture an angry Jesus who has lost control of his temper and resorted to violence. This image is backed up by paintings, and tradition, and no doubt countless sermons, justifying what we like to call, "righteous anger," or "necessary force." It is the pericope to which we refer in order to excuse losing our tempers with one another. We claim this scripture in order to justify inflicting violence on criminals, and even to attack other countries in war.
Note: Nowhere in the text does it say that Jesus got angry. Nor does it say that Jesus harmed a soul. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus has nothing at all in his hands.
In the gospel of John, where he is described holding a whip of cords, he is also not angry. "This reference to a “rope” or a “whip” is the only instance in the entire Bible for that particular obscure Greek word. To get thousands of sheep, oxen, and doves into this enormous structure... cattlemen and shepherds used cords and ropes to lead animals up the high stone walkways into the building. Jesus simply took those cords, which the cattle, sheep, and oxen would have recognized, and started to drive them outside. Then he overturned the bankers’ tables and launched into his speech."(3) So while John's gospel is more amplified in its description, it is nonetheless as non-violent as our passage today from Luke.
Jesus is not angry, nor does he resort to violence. On the contrary, he preached numerous times about NOT being angry. Why is it so important that we understand Jesus as a non-violent figure? Because Jesus is our best example of the character and nature of God. If Jesus could get angry and resort to violence in the temple, that would mean that God could get angry with us and inflict violence on us... and God doesn't do that. God loves. God IS love. God heals. God forgives. God restores. God will never, NEVER, get angry with you or inflict violence on you, oh most cherished of creations.
What do we do then, with a world so badly in need of renewal?
Our urgency to create a more peaceful world often leaves us scratching our heads as to how to go about enacting change. What's more, when humans feel threatened by those forces around us, fear leads us to acts of desperation. Watching injustice played out before our eyes day after day brings us to the point of frustration, cynicism and jadedness.
But take heart. While we may not be the most patient , we are the most creative species on the planet. We've been given examples of non-violent noncompliance and civil disobedience to look back on. Through the life ministry of Jesus we can learn the core values of our faith; the whys of change. From that time until now we can look to figures like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. as more modern examples of what nonviolent movements looks like.
God's righteousness making activity in the world in ongoing. You and I are invited to be a part of it- peacefully. And yes, thoughtful, premeditated acts of civil disobedience may be required. We may been viewed as activists, protesters, even criminals for our actions. We would be in good company.
(1) Weavolution is a sermon series about Jesus's way of interweaving our lives together as God's people; intricately and intrinsically connected to Christ as seen in the gospel of Luke.
(2&3)- If you are interested in social justice and scripture check out this website in total, but first, for a really great article on Jesus and non-violence in the temple, click this link.
Thank you John Dear for your thoughtful and wise words.