Mark 11:15-17 – 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.”
The story of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple in Jerusalem—found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke—is one of the very few times when we witness Jesus’ outward anger at injustice. It is a righteous anger, fueled not by the existence of a system through which people buy animals for sacrificing, but by the money changers’ abuse of that system for their own profit.
We are living in similar times in our country, whereby those in power are creating tax laws that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised. One popular call of movements that have organized over the past few years in order to challenge these and other actions—against women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ communities—is to “resist.” The phrase “Resist!” is a powerful rallying cry and call to action—I myself have found great comfort and courage in this word. It’s a call to struggle against the powers that seek to harm and deny the humanity of particular individuals and groups. It’s an appeal to come together and shelter one another from the impacts of these injustices. And most importantly, “resist” is a call to oppose, object to, defy, and actively struggle against corrupt powers, people, and systems.
But I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus is doing in the overturning of the tables in the temple. In reality, he’s doing more than resisting; Jesus is actually disrupting and dismantling the system by this radical action. Turning the tables disrupts the ability of the moneychangers to cheat people, thus dismantling the entire system (at least for an hour or two, but he made his point). The abuse within the temple was so corrupt that it warranted Jesus’ immediate action—he witnessed people being cheated and robbed and thought, “No more!”
Sometimes, resisting is not enough. In this time of increasing economic disparity between the rich and the poor in our country and around the world, Jesus’ actions in this scripture pose a great challenge for us as Christ-followers. Beyond resisting, we must face injustice directly by creatively disrupting and dismantling oppressive laws and practices. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we work to disrupt and dismantle:
- This work can only be done in community. Braving it alone will not bring about the necessary changes we seek because we don’t have the collective power as individuals (only Jesus had enough power for this!). Also, many of us are among those toward whom these injustices are targeted; so we need one another for safety and solidarity. This is true community.
- Disruption and dismantling can occur only when we have made efforts to resist injustice. Otherwise, our actions will have no effect if we are complicit in perpetuating the very injustices that we are working to disrupt and dismantle. Resistance, disruption, and dismantling are all necessary in order to bring about change.
- It is people who disrupt and dismantle, but it is God who guides the work. If your movements are not steeped in prayer, deep discernment as a community, thoughtful education, and a humility to learn and be led by the Spirit, then the alternative motives for disruption and dismantling must be uncovered first so God can be invited in to lead the way.
- Sometimes the entire system needs to be disrupted and dismantled, but not always. Jesus only temporarily disrupted and dismantled the temple money-changing system; but he did put an immediate stop to the abuse of the system. How can we work to stop the abuses of a system without destroying the entire system? (Asking for a friend…)
The work of resistance, disruption, and dismantling is not easy and becomes increasingly more difficult as the abuses become more codified in our laws and policies. If only we were able to walk into a money lending store and smash up the place! That, however, accomplishes nothing and is not what God is calling us to do in the work of disrupting and dismantling in today’s complex society. Our organizing and actions must become much more creative than that in order to truly stop the wheels of injustice from rolling over us. This is why we need God, and one another, now more than ever; and Holy Week is just the reminder for us that Christ’s love will carry us through, no matter the injustices we face.
Prayer: God, grant us courage and wisdom to resist, disrupt, and dismantle those systems which cause harm. May your strength empower us to turn the tables of injustice. Amen.