Overturning Tables

Overturning Tables

Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him, for they were afraid of him because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.

Mark 11:15-18 (NRSVUE)

I wonder, when you imagine Jesus in your mind, what is he like? Is he kind and loving? Warm & welcoming? Funny and joy-filled? Tired and cranky? Sad and teary-eyed or angry and frustrated? Most people imagine Jesus as kind and compassionate, gentle, humble, and easygoing. But don’t forget that we are told that as Emmanuel, or God with us, Jesus is fully human and fully divine. So, I’m sure that at one time or another, he felt all those emotions, just like we do.

Friends, I’d like you to take a minute and think about the last thing that made you angry, I mean really angry. Maybe it was when your boss brought up a mistake you made in front of coworkers, and you were embarrassed and angry at the same time. Or when on a recent trip, your flight was delayed, and then delayed some more, so you ended up missing your connecting flight and then you missed your friend’s wedding rehearsal. Maybe you heard something on the news that you really didn’t agree with and it got under your skin. Or perhaps someone told you that they didn’t like a project you’ve been working really hard on. When any of those things happen, it can be frustrating, and it can cause us to feel all kinds of emotions. We can feel mad or sad. We can feel unworthy or uncomfortable. We can feel unloved, or worthless, or we can feel disrespected, unappreciated, or unwelcome–none of which tend to feel very good.

The truth is, emotions themselves–like joy, anger, fear, sadness, or disgust–they are not wrong. But it’s what we do because of our emotions that can be right or wrong. Friends, always remember that you are in control of your emotions; your emotions are not in control of you. That’s why usually the best thing to do when you feel a strong emotion coming on is to take a deep breath and count to ten, because emotions, whether they make us mad or sad or frustrated or overjoyed or somewhere in-between, can take all our energy and can blind us to what is actually happening right in front of us. Sometimes when we feel strongly about something, our emotions get the best of us.

In today’s scripture lesson, we find Jesus frustrated and angry too. And you might wonder why he didn’t just take a deep breath and count to ten or step outside and cool down. But to tell the truth, Jesus had already done that. If we look back just four verses in scripture, we learn that, just after being part of the Palm Sunday parade, scripture says, “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had a look around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” So, Jesus knew what he was going to find at the temple when he got there the next day. It was not a surprise. This story of Jesus overturning the tables, or the cleansing of the temple is in all four of the gospels, so we know that it is an important story.

Folks, the truth is we live in a world that enjoys drawing lines and take sides. We like to know what is ours, who is responsible for what, and who belongs where. It happens in our homes, in our communities, and even in our churches. And though that brings comfort to some of us, it builds an unwelcoming barrier for others. That is what Jesus was trying to change. Jesus’ actions remind us that God’s presence is open to all.

Jesus overturned the tables not only because of the unjust buying and the selling practices in the temple, but because those in charge had forgotten that the temple wasn’t just for them, but it was for all nations. By placing the money-changer and the sacrifice vendors in the temple, the authorities had blocked the possibility for outsiders to come to worship. And lots of people had traveled from afar to Jerusalem because it was Passover. The temple leadership had made the temple all about themselves, And they sat in the way of God’s will because it was more convenient and more comfortable for them. That made Jesus not only angry, but as scripture says, it made Jesus weep.

Friends, many times when we get angry, we are not smiling one minute then yelling and screaming and flipping tables the next minute. Our emotions are often affected by what is happening deep inside of us: our memories, our previous hurts, the grudges we hold, or the disappointments that we have experienced. This story of Jesus cleansing the temple happened at the beginning of Holy Week, when Jesus knew that he was in Jerusalem for the last time. Throughout all of Jesus’ ministry, he encouraged people to follow him, to keep moving, and to go out into the world and make a difference. And yet, as he walked back into the temple that day, nothing had changed. Corruption was still all around him, and all that he saw was injustice and greed. He saw some people sitting comfortably while actual barriers were in place to keep others from experiencing God.

Whenever I read this story, it always calls me to look at the way that we worship and work here in Oldtown. We say that “all are welcome,” but do we have barriers in place that welcome some and not others? Do we make new people feel welcome, or do we complain when someone is sitting in “our” pew? And are we so busy and focused on the business of the church that we lose sight of the reason why we are here?

I always wonder, if Jesus were to walk into our sanctuary right now, would he sit down and enjoy being a part of worship and join us for coffee hour? Or would he start overturning our tables, frustrated with our finger-pointing and lack of forgiveness and weeping over the barriers that we have built and are blind to? Folks, if we truly want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we are not called to turn tables ourselves, but we are called to turn the other cheek.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, pay attention to your emotions. What is making you feel sad or mad or frustrated? And if you suddenly feel a sense of anger or fear or anxiety, stop, take a deep breath, count to ten, and think about what else might be going on. What underlying situation or past story might be feeding your emotions? Because to truly follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we need to be still and calm our spirits so that we don’t strike out in anger. Instead, we need to work to offer a house of prayer for all nations as we do our best to share the unconditional love of God with the world.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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