Early in Jesus’ ministry, according to John’s Gospel, he and his disciples head to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Jesus encounters people in the temple selling animals for sacrifice and changing money into the “coin of the realm.”(See John 2:13-22) Neither of these activities was inherently evil, and in fact, was necessary for worship in the Temple for people travelling long distances and from different countries with different currencies. Nonetheless, Jesus was not very happy. I suspect he saw that the commercial enterprise had overshadowed the importance of worship. Scripture tells us that Jesus was so upset that he wove a whip of cords and drove the sheep and cattle out of the temple, turned over the tables of the Money Changers and poured out their coins. The House of Prayer for all nations had become a Marketplace.
When we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do, (WWJD)?” we must realize that the answer just might involve turning over tables and driving injustice out of the Temple. It might involve fighting injustice in the world and working for the peace and mercy of God’s Kingdom.
By placing this episode at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John sets the theme of Jesus’ entire life and mission. Mark, Matthew and Luke place it at the end of Jesus’ life and here it leads directly to his execution.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, also faced evil in the world and like Jesus, chose to “turn over tables and fight injustice.” In the late 1930’s Bonhoeffer had a teaching fellowship at Union Seminary in New York. Instead of staying in America where he was safe, he went back to Germany to work against the evil that was raising its head in his native land. He was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in a plot to bring down the supreme leader, Adolph Hitler, who was destroying the German Nation and the world. In 1945, a few days before the prison was liberated, Bonhoeffer was hanged. He was 39 years old.
Bonhoeffer’s words reflect the life and the words of Jesus: “Silence in the face of evil is in itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”
Now to another episode in Jesus’ life, recorded in Luke 4:17-21: “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Jesus and he read: ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free—to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
If Jesus had just stopped there, sat down and kept his mouth shut everything would have been fine. But no, he had to say something—“today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Most of you know the story, the people take Jesus out of the village to the brow of the cliff and attempt to throw him off and kill him.
Jesus, Bonhoeffer and many others have demonstrated by their lives and their deaths that proclaiming truth to power, fighting against injustice and for peace, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor do not often turn out well for those engaged in these enterprises.
We are called by God to be like Jesus, to be like Bonhoeffer: WWJD? He might just turn over some tables—he might just replace the temple with the Kingdom of God—and he might just be killed for doing it.
WWJHUSD (What Would Jesus Have Us Do)? He might just ask us to turn over a few tables—he might just ask us to replace the status quo with the Kingdom of God. And yes, we too might just be killed for doing it.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created; and so you shall renew the face of the Earth. Amen.”