Jesus begins his ministry in John by flipping tables. Since we are doing this out of order, let’s review. Jesus gets baptized by John, starts calling his disciples, gets mom pressured into turning water into wine. His first official act as the messiah is to go into the temple and flip the tables of the money changers. He is incensed that the temple has become a marketplace. Though we are telling this story now, towards the end of his life. In John it is the beginning of the tearing down of the Temple that Jesus promises through his ministry. It happens in the second chapter of the book and sets the tone for the entire gospel of John.
A fantasy author E. K. Johnston looks at the of the Jewish holiday of Purim and wondered the other day what holy days we maybe could celebrate if Christians worried a bit less about being accessible and mainstream, and we instead embraced the weirdness that is Christianity. One of the Holy Days she suggests is Flipping Tables day, which could be the third Sunday in Lent or perhaps the week after Easter when the world has been turned upside-down. Knowing how Christian denominations work, no doubt half of us will pick one day and half of us the other.
There is a great thought that often circulates that is “when people say act like Jesus, remember that flipping tables is always an option.” So here is the question, what does flipping the tables look like in your context? What is holy about Jesus flipping over the tables of the money makers? If we were to fashion a whip to drive people out, what would that whip be made out of? If we were to celebrate when things are overturned and changed, what might that look like? What would it mean to make flipping tables a holiday?
Turning to Exodus 20, how do the 10 commandments strike you today? What are the idols that need to be tipped over and disrupted? It is hard not to think of the golden statue of Trump in the latest conservative gather in the United States and to start to question what parts of government and economy do we turn into idols? What does it mean to put our security in things other than God? And what is our reponsiblity to keep ourselves and our neighbors healthy?
Psalm 19 expands upon this theme, noting that the law of the Lord is perfect but we are not. All the faults that we have are seen by God. And that we should desire God’s justice (and mercy) more than gold. That’s going to be a tough one for humanity to face. What do we desire? Why? How can we work with God on our faults?
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 talks about how the values of the cross are not the values of the world: fitting in nicely with economic table flipping and being wary and aware of idols in our lives and secret faults. The cross interrupts humanity–putting divinity directly into the timeline and experience of being human. It is scandalous. It is so strange, that Romans and Hebrews alike would be shocked and horrified to learn that we wear the cross like jewelry. We are not to be convinced of our own intelligence and power–for they are only human. Anyone who thinks they’ve got God figured out, usually has a lot more work to do. Because God is beyond human ken, and divinity works in mysterious ways. But that makes glimpses of God and the work that we do in God’s name ever so much more important. The cross is foolish by human standard, not because all Christians are persecuted (because Western Christianity greatly mistakes a lack of hegemony as persecution), but because it forces humans to give away power and money and to value relationships and love as more secure. It is a tough road, and one where a Christian is not defined by a checklist of characteristics, but instead by a series of loving interactions. I hope you can find some scandal in the cross today.
Where are you in your Lenten journey? Do you find yourself in the table flipping Temple, the Ten Commandments, the foolishness of the Cross or somewhere else? Let us know how God is speaking to you through the texts this week, and may your Lenten journey carry with it some of the good news that you need to hear.
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny Presbyterian church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY since 2020 and blogs prayers & Narrative Lectionary at http://www.katyandtheword.com She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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