Turning Over Tables; Turning over the World: Temple, Economics, and COVID19

Matthew 21:12-17

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” 14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’? And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.”

 

This is the word of the Lord….

 

It is already broken…

I was travelling back home to Australia from the United States in late January. And I was on a plane- a Cathay pacific flight- flying to Perth via Hong Kong. As I landed in Hong Kong, I noticed that everyone was wearing medical masks, and all flights to this little known province called Wuhan simply said on the large screens throughout the airport “cancelled”. Upon returning to Australia, I returned to work. We had our school staff conference, and we anticipated an exciting year ahead. But, little did we all know, that by the end of the term, a virus- which started in the province of Wuhan- would send both staff and students packing and working from home.

Little did we know, that supermarkets would be emptied out of a state of panicked uncertainty.

Little did we know, that family & friends we love would be out of work amidst an unprecedented global economic shut down.

Little did we know, that toilet paper would become like a commodity worth its weight in gold.

Little did we know, that words like “social distancing” would enter our everyday speech and be put in practice.

Little did we know, the gatherings often done in person would be moved online as an alternative in what has become the new norm.

Little did we know.

When this virus came, we were told to bunker down, keep our heads low, and ride this one out. And I agree. Self -isolation is the most loving thing to do. It protects our most vulnerable neighbours in society by stopping potential spreading, and it in turn frees up space in our medical system to help others who might otherwise need desperate help in a system that, if we socially isolate, doesn’t become overwhelmed. We have seen the devastation when we don’t self-isolate.

My heart grieves over places like Iran & Italy where nameless mass graves are being dug for named family & friends who are dead.

My heart grieves for places like New York city, where you see refrigerator trucks being used on the streets to store the recent dead in a city overwhelmed by the sheer scale of coronavirus cases.

My heart grieves for lives lost when sleepy or naïve governments don’t act fast enough to stop the spread.

Yet, my heart has been in grief for a while now… Even before this virus came.

Some of the students I work with ration when they have dinner because they have such low income and little support.  It is too easy to walk the streets and notice the mother & child who have no roof over their head. And in the midst of this, it is too easy to look up at the billboards that are right above the rough sleepers and see an ad for the latest Mercedes about to come on the market. Now, I am not against owning a car- but the imagery is striking.

My heart has grieved for a while now, because nothing is new…

Rather, it is now that things have been merely exposed…

We are told to self-isolate, and that we must. It is loving too to do exactly that.

Yet, the cracks of society have always been there, and the virus has merely revealed the deep cracks. It’s easy to self-isolate when you have a roof over your head.

Yet, try telling that to the homeless man stuck in the rain who has no roof over his head.

It’s very easy to stock up in desperate times…

Yet, try telling this to the family who can barely get food and, when they go to the food banks, discover that even those shelves are emptied in a state of panic buying.

This virus isn’t breaking our system, it’s showing us that it was already broken. And this virus is just making the gaping hole bigger.

 

Economic Priorities

In the middle of all of this, some world leaders would rather that their economies re-open, even if it might lead to a spike in new COVID19 cases. The belief goes like this: if we don’t re-open and start getting back to business there will be unemployment into the long-term and that might even cause more deaths as a result. The logic might be sound- yet it’s quite telling, don’t you think? How our wellbeing depends on the daily bread of this mysterious force known as The Market. And that the only way to appease The Market into giving us its daily bread is in sacrificing ourselves on its alter. We don’t negotiate the terms of our wellbeing, The Market does.

Now, economics is complex, and I am no economist. And my point isn’t to say I have all the answers. But my point is to give an honest & frank observation of things- and one of the key observations that many of us have made, is that we live in a world where the only way we survive is by getting our daily bread from this force known as The Market. And apparently that’s just how it is. A dog eat dog world.

2000 years ago, things were very different. A much smaller world, less complexity. Yet, even 2000 years ago, this prevailing economic force was present…

In a part of the world there was a city called Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was also the main place for the Jewish people to go to, for it housed their temple.

Now, in the ancient world, a temple was considered to be the place where you would go and meet God. In particular to this temple situated on top of the city of Jerusalem, people would travel for miles to go to this very special temple, and offer sacrifices to God. You would go into the temple, buy your animal sacrifice, and a priest would come to help you sacrifice. The temple was a well-oiled religious machine. It’s interesting to note, that Jesus himself had a mixed relationship to the temple: As a good Jewish man, Jesus taught in the temple, he himself was taught in the temple as a child, and after his birth very wise men of the temple showed joy in his birth. And Jesus’ family & friends would have orientated their religiosity around the temple. Yet, Jesus himself, towards the end of his ministry, went into the temple courts, and declared judgement upon the temple (It’s worth noting that Jesus’ judgement on the temple isn’t because it was part of the Jewish way of life, and I want to say that because I don’t want people to run away with this message and make an anti-semitic case. Jesus’ was and is the Jewish messiah, and the temples judgement would be part of the vocation of being the throughly Jewish messiah, and I’ll be explaining the judgement in a bit). Yet, judgement nonetheless, and It is this very judgement that speaks into our world today.

 

Solomon & The Temple

In Jesus people’s history existed a well-known king called Solomon. King Solomon was famous for many things, though one of the things he was most well known for was building Jerusalem’s temple, and setting up its structure and usage. And when King Solomon built the temple, he used the temple as the centrepiece of his power. Yet what did the power of this king look like? Well, one of the things about Solomon’s rule & reign is what he did economically. In his rule & reign, he established a type of taxation that dismantled the powers of the tribes and clans, and instead centred the economic power around himself. Instead of the covenantal law based economic order that had concern for equitable distribution of economic resources, Solomon shifted the economic power in a way that begun to displace peoples- creating a sharp division of poor and the wealthy. And the temple was the central symbol that displayed this type power.

With this power play of the temple used by kings, the temple systems & religious orders developed around this oppressive use of the temple. Instead of the temple being the place where people would go and meet the untameable God of the tabernacle found in the wilderness years during the days of Moses, the temple became the domestication of God under state controlled order of the king, reserved for an elite class of Solomon serving priests. And the religious separation of the “holy” and “unholy” worked in their advantage financially as well. After all, if this was a temple became a place of prayer “for all nations” then all would have to seek to benefit financially from it- and they couldn’t have that.  Rather, it was a temple finished with jewels, gold, and fine cedar, further contrasting the poor & rich divide that this now state religion. From Torah people, to temple people, things had gone array, and this lasted all the way to Jesus’ day. Between Solomon and Jesus, the temple got destroyed, yet was later re-built and its function remained intact.

It’s worth noting that the temple- though often used as an oppressive function- did have prophetic hopes for its redeeming use. At its best, it served as a stake in the ground declaring the rule & reign of God on the Earth, being a marker place of central worship, and could be seen like a dam that held the presence of God, with the hope that the temple would be the place the presence of God would wash clean all who engaged in the sacrifices in the temple, with the bigger hope that God’s temple presence would flood out into the world. The tears of the prophets with their writings of decrying the way the temple was used, was met with the hope that the temple be transformed for the good of all. Yet, this was a hope differed, and the exact nature of the temple’s transformation largely mysterious.

Yet, Solomon’s use of the temple prevailed and became the norm. Later, In the time of Jesus, the temple still served as an economic centre functioning as a huge national bank. And the high priests had the final say on the use of the temple’s wealth.  A good deal of money was stored at the temple, where it could be loaned by the wealthy to the poor who were in danger of losing their land to debt. The Temple establishment therefore co-operated with the upperclass in the exploitation of the poor.

 

Jesus & The Temple

So, then along comes Jesus. The man who drew upon the tradition of Moses & the Prophets, and (in doing so) exposing the sickening structures that the temple had succumb to- violence, power, and ruthless economics. Now, like I said, Jesus taught in the temples, he was taught as a child in the temples, and in his birth very wise men of the temple showed joy in his birth, and Jesus’ family & friends would have orientated their religiosity around the temple. So Jesus has some neutral experiences around the temple. Yet he also sees the structures baked into the temple itself- and so Jesus, coming into the temple and turning over tables, becomes a direct affront to the temple’s powers & structures. So, when Jesus comes on the scene, he unveils that the problem with the temple is that it has failed to be “a house of prayer for all the nations.”  Instead, the temple had become a centre for religious exclusivity and economic exploitation. So, we have Jesus, coming in and turning over tables, drawing upon the prophets of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

With Isaiah, Jesus sees Isaiah’s dream for the world where he sees all nations & peoples coming to Jerusalem to pray & worship together; it’s an inclusive vision for all people despite race, creed, slave or free, coming together as equals before the living God in prayer…

In Jeremiah, Jesus sees the weeping prophet condemning the people of Judea for their assumption that God would keep the temple going despite their injustices…

In evoking these prophets inside what had become an economically, politically & religiously oppressive system, we have Jesus seeking to end the structures of the temple for good and forever…

Now remember, temples couldn’t function without money changers and sellers. So, if Jesus was merely “cleansing the temple” he should have left the money in there so it could still function afterwards. But he didn’t- he turned over the tables! This action wasn’t a “cleansing of the temple” (as it’s sometimes called) that otherwise keeps the structures of the temple in place. Rather, it’s about bringing down the very structures in place that enable the exploitation. As I said before, the temple ruling class ideology, instituted by Solomon, created the separation of the “holy” and “unholy”, and it worked in their advantage financially. But when Jesus says that a temple is being built “for all nations” then all seek to benefit from a new structure…

 

So, with Jesus bringing down the house, making a way for all people, ending the financial gain of buying sacrifices in its controlling of the masses through the ideology of animal sacrifice, what will be the new structure in its wake? What would be the new temple, and with it, a new way for the world? How would the prophetic dreams of the prophets of old be realised whereby a temple would be what it was always meant to be: a stake in the ground declaring the rule & reign of God on the Earth, a marker place of central worship, like a dam that held the presence of God, with the hope that out of this very presence  the world would be washed clean? What would this temple be that unleashes a new & healed world upon the world as it currently is?! My friends, Jesus says of his own body “Destroy this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days”. As Jesus turns over the tables- dismantling the dehumanising ways of how the temple became to function- in its wake Jesus will bring a new type of temple, a temple made of his body, that would unleash a new life giving power into the world for all people- economically, politically, and religiously.  In Jesus, we will see God’s rule & reign of love. In Jesus, we will see the worship of the revealed God. In Jesus, his kingdom will be a like a dam of water burst open, flooding the whole world & bringing healing waters that seek to restore and make all things well.

It says in verse 14 that after Jesus brought down the house, “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them and the people outside. No longer an elitist, religious, economic club of the so-called “holy”. Indeed, in Jesus, the living temple, a place where the blind and the lame would come to him and be cured, and even the children would cry out “Hosanna!”.

Yet, this very action in the temple marked Jesus’ death sentence. The temple functioned as the trigger for Jesus’ death. It was social disruption that shook things so much so that that they killed him. Yet what did Jesus say? “Destroy this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days”. And when Jesus was executed by the threatened state- threatened by His rule & reign- what happened to the temple in Jerusalem? When Jesus’ dies, the temple curtain is torn in two. Now, this isn’t a nice way of saying “oh yay now we can go to heaven because the temple curtains was torn in two”; rather, the tearing of the temple curtain was a sign that, in Jesus’ death, the temple was done. God’s presence would not be seen as the exclusive club, but the liberating waters that flood the earth, where people are free to live, move, and have there being in a Jesus who invites all into participating in the life of God, and whose very Kingdom would be for all. And part of God’s vision for the world is that God’s economic ways would not be controlled by the powerful but would be a force of good for all of the world.

 

The Temple & The Economics of today

And so, my friends, we come full circle. Today, we have a temple-like political economic world. This virus has exposed the cracks that have always been there.

Now, economics is complex, and I am no economist. And my point isn’t to say I have all the answers. But my point is to give an honest & frank observation of things- and one of the key observations that many of us have made, is that we live in a world where the only way we survive is by getting our daily bread from this force known as The Market. And apparently that’s just how it is. A dog eat dog world.

2000 years ago, things were very different. A much smaller world, less complexity. Yet, even 2000 years ago, this prevailing economic force was present.

But I say to you today! That there was a new force unleashed upon the world! And it isn’t called The Market, and it isn’t the Jerusalem market temple- it’s the Kingdom of the God! And in this Kingdom, the walls are down, and the Kingdom is moving out, and it’s bringing a new world order- and it’s being lead by a King greater than the Kings & Kingdoms of the current world order. It’s a King with a Kingdom that will defy all nations, all empires, all leaders, all prime ministers, all presidents, and all CEO’s, and it will defy all their economic paradigms that they allow to be the economic norm under the false god known as The Market.

Remember when I said, that prior to Solomon’s economics, that there was already a system in place? Well, the economic system that was in place has be called scholars as “Jubilee”. It was an economic paradigm that made sure the poor was always looked after, and it functioned on the right belief that abundance was defined by God who brought manna and not defined by hoarding like that of the Egyptian empire who used the slaves to build store houses. And it was an economic reality that the early church caught wind of when it decided that, as its first act of community, it would share together as family, especially making sure the neediest were looked after. It is worth saying that their sharing all things in common came from a conviction of Jesus, not from outside government. And it didn’t say no one couldn’t own anything, but rather that their ownership ought to be seen communally for the common good of all. So, they weren’t proto socialists. Yet the psalms speak that the leaders of the world would look towards the Messiah and learn his wisdom- and so therefore part of the Christian vocation is both communal and political. Communal is that we are to be the first to model this new found economic reality that we see in the book of Acts, and yet also political in that we ought to remind the powers of the world who they ought to learn from in order to seek the common good for all people- which means there is a conversation to be had on how governments ought to act in the world, which I think should include greater governmental support that makes basic human rights basic. That is, that we all have shelter, access to medicine, and food on the table- no matter what. And so, part of the economic vocation of Christians, is that we do what Jesus did: turn over some tables! Dismantle the economic & political structures that hold the world ransom the temple Market powers! For when Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, he was saying that, not only is he the true temple, but now we too are the living temples of God. Jesus is the cornerstone, and we his stones. The temples no longer have the power. So, let us turn over the tables and show the world whose really boss.

 

It’s time to turn over some tables!

So what does the turning over of tables look like for us? Well, if the turning of tables was the turning over of structures, then the question for us is: what does that look like?

 

Firstly, turning over tables can look like the practice of community…

Numerous people have said “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”. And so, turning over tables is going to look like turning over how we do community. What if instead of using our homes only for us, we use our home to seek hospitality? What if instead of using our homes only for us, we make safe & wise space for those who need a place to stay? What if we shared things like a community? Community gardens, community wealth that for all who need help (not just for the elite). I am reminded of communities like “The Simple Way” in Philadelphia who we can learn from to be a better witness of doing community in the world. Such ways of living actually challenge the economic powers by not participating in the ways the world does economics.

 

Secondly, turning over tables can look like the practice of civil disobedience…

Jesus turning over tables was rebellious. And whatever Romans 13 means, it can’t contradict Jesus or Paul- who both got arrested by declaring in word and deed that there was a new king on the block who would bring a holy shake down. In other words, there is place for civil disobedience. Martin Luther King Jr. is a great example of the power of nonviolent Civil Disobedience to bring about change. When you shake up the system, it eventually forces the system to meet the demands of the shake-up. Now, I am not saying that as a guarantee, but I am saying that as the hope- that when we find creative ways to be a benevolent agitator for the common good.

 

Thirdly, turning over tables can look like reminding the powers of the worlds true Lord…

Often, when leaders have the power to change things for the better, I have written letters to leaders in the area I have lived. And if those leaders identify as Christian, I will appeal to their deeper baptismal identity as a way of appealing to their better self to seek the common good. If they aren’t a Christian, I will appeal to (the discreetly Christian ethic of…) human rights. Either way, I am bringing a fresh reminder to the powers that there is a better way to run the world, and it’s in seeking the common good for all people.  And that’s in seeking the ways of the Kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus. And in a democracy, I get to exercise the modern privilege of voting, so whilst I don’t think any political party captures the kingdom of God or runs the world like the Kingdom of God (Dying on a cross!), I can nonetheless vote for political parties that I think have soft spots for “the least of these” in our world.

Finally, turning over tables looks like having hope…

 

Jesus Turns over the world

When Jesus turned over tables, the poor, the lame, the blind came in and saw his healing. That, my friends, is hope right there. That there was something about Jesus’ actions that made people just outside the temple go “can it be?” and then slowly enter in, and find healing. So, can it be?

Can it be that the families at the school I work at always have food on the table?

Can it be that the homeless will have a shelter over their head?

Can it be that the societal cracks this virus has revealed can be mended?

Can it be that a new world is being birthed on the far side of the tables being turned over?

The answer is… Yes, it can.

This doesn’t mean that all the problems are now gone.

But it does mean that the turning over of tables lead to the turning over of the world.

On the cross, Jesus turned the world upside down.

On the cross, He defeated the powers of darkness of darkness.

And out of the tomb, He shows us world reborn.

He turned over the tables. He turned over the world. He turned over the tomb stone.

Can it be? Yes it can.

As the old saying goes “no stone will be left unturned”, well the hope is that no table will be left unturned. For when Jesus appears again, what temple do we find? John says this in Revelation, when describing the world having been restored says:

I saw no temple in the city, for its Temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Can it be? Yes it can. The end has been written, all that exists is the time between Jesus’ resurrection and his eventual appearing again to implement fully what started on Easter Sunday. The hope of the prophets of the true temple find their place in Jesus, and also find their place in us as Jesus’ body, all unto a world where the temple known as Jesus will find the final say.

So anyone or anything that never had the chance to fully experience the table turning ways of Jesus will not stayed unturned.

So, can it be? Yes it can.

A new day has dawned

The revolution has begun.

The tables have turned.

 

So, in the wake of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will one day do: may we allow the Holy Spirit to turn over the tables of our own greedy hearts, to make us new, so that we become table turners, all unto the day where all tables will be turned, where no stone will be left unturned…Or rather, no table will be left unturned.

Amen .

 

 

 

 

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