Lent has just begun, but I’m already looking ahead to Holy Week. I like to plan things well in advance. While re-reading the Holy Week story in Mark’s Gospel, I discovered I’m not the only one.
It was all planned. Jesus entered the city on Sunday on a celebratory wave of Hosanna and left the crowd behind to visit the Temple. He looked around and left, because he planned to come back Monday and make a scene. Apparently, Jesus is not a Presbyterian after all; good Presbyterians don’t make scenes, do we?
Jesus didn’t throw an impromptu Temple-tantrum; he staged a planned protest. Jesus believed it was time to turn over some tables.
Jesus wasn’t angry that money was changing hands for sacrifices. He was angry that his expectations weren’t met. He expected his Father’s House, the Temple, to be a house of prayer for all people, but instead he found it turned into a den of thieves. The Temple was the den of religious leaders who devoured widows’ houses. The Temple was not the place where robbery occurred, but where the robbers went for refuge in the belief that they were safe and protected and legitimized by the House of God.
Too often, the church has been on the wrong side of justice issues, but we retreat behind our pulpits and stained glass confident that everything is okay. We believe as long as we’re in church … it’s all good.
Throughout the prophetic tradition, God’s insistence on justice runs clear: “I reject your worship because of your lack of justice” (Amos 5:21-24). Authentic worship must be coupled with justice; injustice to anyone affronts what we proclaim and promise in worship.
That’s why Jesus was so upset at the Temple. There’s a withering within the walls—a withering of faith, hope, love and justice in his Father’s House. What should be a house of prayer for all people, says Jesus, has become an exclusive club of privilege and power. The Temple had become a hiding place for those who feigned piety while people stood outside the doors, knocking with bloody knuckles, desperate to receive the promise of the place.
Does it make you angry that someone has to ask if they would be welcome in the House of God? Does it make you angry when you hear stories of people being asked to leave churches, businesses and even homes because of who they are?
Do injustices done to children, women, minorities and those with less financial and social capital anger you? It should.
Perhaps this Lent we should give up our passivity. We should give up our reluctance to act. We should give up our attitude that someone else will confront the problems we face and bring change. It is time to turn over the tables.
It is time to turn over the tables in the halls of government where legislators hide after robbing individuals of their dignity and freedom by permitting and promoting discrimination.
It is time to turn over the tables of businesses that prey on the desperate, robbing them of their futures in exchange for the meager means of present survival.
It is time to turn over the tables of prisons that rob human beings of their very humanity for the sake of profit.
It is time to turn over the tables of the patriarchy that robs women and girls of confidence, hope, opportunity and equality by insisting they are not as good, not as valued and not as capable as men.
It is time to turn over systems of privilege, even Christian privilege, that proclaim and promote the wants of some over the needs of others.
We need to turn from our practiced personal piety and turn toward our neighbor in love and action. We need to turn over some tables.
This Lent, may the ashes on our heads not only remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return, but also of the cross we are called to carry and the many tables Jesus turned over on his way to Calvary. We, too, are on our way to Calvary this Lent. What tables will we turn over along the way?
STEPHEN McKINNEY-WHITAKER is pastor and head of staff at United Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Illinois.