Thursday, August 3, 2017

Jesus As Dangerous...Are We?

I had a flicker of identification with Jesus recently while appealing a Disorderly Conduct conviction. It came from the surprising source - one of my fellow litigants (we had been blocking the same sidewalk in a protest). All during that court appearance I wondered about the definition of "disorderly" and what was a reasonable objection. My friend pointed out the similarity of our situation to the biblical verse Mark 11:16.

Indeed, can a Christian be "disorderly"?
Can a Christian be "disorderly"?

This is a reference to when Jesus visited the temple before his crucifixion. The stop comes after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he begins a daily routine of teaching before heing arrested later in the week. 

This initial trip to the temple is known for his dramatic response to the commerce being carried on there. Because sacrifice was a necessary part of temple ritual and because visitors traveled with their own coinage it had to be "changed" to the standard of the temple (hence the reference to "tables of money changers" in the texts.) Many small businesses thrived in the courtyards adjacent to that holy place, and commerce found its own level of activity. 

Mind you, all this energy transpired in the "Court of the Gentiles" and not in the temple proper. 

Think of a walled in football field and at one end - about at the 15 yard line - there's another walled enclosure with the temple's "most holy place" where the Ark of the Covenant rests. The Ark contains the tablets Moses received at Sinai. So, Jesus and his commotion occurred in the wide open area (the remaining 85 yards) designated for gentiles. 

Jesus maintained that the entire area from Solomon's time was set aside for God. While the Pharisaical rules agreed with him, they were lax in enforcement. 

Now that we've set the scene, one can visualize Jesus arriving at the great expanse of a gentile courtyard with an expectation of prayer. Instead he is greeted with cheap chatter. It is noteworthy because all three synoptic versions record the surprising scene of Jesus getting violent. He overturns tables, seats and "drives" merchants from their places. 

There's a lot to think on here. First and foremost, that anger is an emotion that has a place in the Second Testament. Having Jesus float above human emotion isn't accurate or practical. Chances are if he got angry here, he got angry at other times. Sure, he was miffed when his mom goaded him into that Cana wine miracle, and you wouldn't want to be a fig tree anywhere near him. But Jesus wasn't throwing any furniture as he is doing in this reference.

On the Richter scale of being upset, his anger even incorporated violent acts. 

I hasten to add no one gets hurt. There is a line no one can cross with Jesus and profaning the holy is that line. 

The literal Marcan narrative  is very clear, "He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts." (Mark 11:16)

In short: Mark describes Jesus as blocking traffic.

Not only can't you sell, interact or otherwise transact, you can't traverse (take a shortcut) through this temple area. At base, what's at stake here is taking God for granted, that, is the peril for humanity.

Given that, it becomes appropriate, more, a necessity for Jesus to get angry and throw things. This is not a tantrum but part of a series of images all week where Jesus enters the flow of historical events. He continues confrontational behavior - adding active debate with the Pharisees - before his arrest. 

Observing Jesus getting angry in the temple discloses the connection of passion-just action and steadfast loyalty which characterizes the essence of Christian witness.

In other words, it might seem inevitable that Jesus got angry and that he died on the cross but his choice was in each act. Which loops us back to what we choose to do in each moment of our lives. For example, when can a hostile act be confronted and how can it be drained of its power? Can a Christian really do something and be reliably Christian?

During this time of uncertainty in our country, Brook and I attended a Saturday training session provided by some local churches...Rivertowns Episcopal Action on Inclusion and Race (REPAIR) in the lower Hudson Valley.  The gathering was notable for a number of reasons but particularly that 65 people would gather on a stifling Saturday morning in summer to learn how to "disarm" a potentially violent situation. The training was provided by two instructors from the Center for Anti-Violence Education. 

Julie Hwang, Instructor
The curriculum travels under the novel label of "upstander" which is a play on words with the word "bystander." Early in the session one understands the difference between the two--and the point of why everyone would bother to spend 2 hours learning this concept. 

The Center for Anti-Violence maintains--with nodding heads of agreement around the room--that in these fractious days people feel tense and never know when and where a surprise confrontation might occur between fellow citizens. As Trainer Tish Tabb said, "You feel upended and vulnerable...and don't know what to do." 
Tish Tabb, "Upstander" trainer

More heads nodded agreement. Which introduces an alternative to simply being a bystander to an aggressive and/or abusive act, and, instead, becoming an active witness, an upstander. To be clear this behavior doesn't advocate violence or confrontation of any kind. Rather, it is a series of techniques designed to distract the aggressor from the targeted person. It is meant to benignly empower the embattled person. 

I asked what happens after the companion upstander effectively distracts the bully and the targeted person is safe. I was surprised and pleased to hear the instructor's response, "Why, you exit the scene quickly." Who wouldn't like that end to a confrontation!

Jesus commitment is evidenced in the text and he declared a boundary. That's the model. Likewise--through even our more modest life events--we must enter this culture, stand up for civility and serve justice. Those occasions are at hand. 

There's nothing complicated about this call or the course local churches should take. To do anything less loses the vision of Christ, his dangerous memory, and our inheritance.+gep 

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