Flipping Tables in the 21st Century

What Jesus and The Hulk have in common.

Flipping Tables in the 21st Century
Photo by Andre Hunter / Unsplash

In Mark’s angry Jesus story, after flipping the tables he addresses the crowd and says, “Hasn’t it been written, ‘my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’” Here, Jesus is quoting from the book of Isaiah. He then says, “But you’ve turned it into ‘a hideout for crooks.’” This quote is from the book of Jeremiah.

Jesus calls out the religious leaders for allowing the institution to turn into a business. He drives the money changers and dove sellers away and calls upon everyone there to return the temple into a house of prayer for all nations.

The institutional church has become a business. Like all businesses, The Church often decides in the institution’s interest rather than the people’s. So we have to ask ourselves, how do we fix the problem and return The Church universal to a house of prayer for all nations?

First, and foremost we need to focus on following Jesus’ teaching. It’s one thing to agree with Jesus’ teaching and another to live it out. We must allow Jesus’ actions to become our way of life.

We start by loving and welcoming all people — and I’m not just talking about while inside a church building. While that is important, scripture describes the church as its people. We, as individuals, must love and welcome all people every day of our lives.

This means we cannot make jokes at the expense of others. We cannot post or say things that demean and hurt people. While we can disagree, we must debate our differences without attacking or hurting individuals.

We must also be vocal when people are being excluded — be it by the institutional church or our friends and family. The United Methodist Church’s General Conference decision was wrong. Individual churches that preach hate in place of Gospel are wrong. When faced with these things, we must be vocal about proclaiming Jesus’ teaching.

Out of hundreds of anecdotes of Jesus’ life captured in the Gospels, few are found in all four books. Each of the four Gospel writers saw this moment of Jesus’ life important enough to chronicle. So while angry Jesus is an odd image to behold, it’s one we need to wrestle with.

Communion is a time to reconnect with Jesus. In the traditional liturgy — the words introducing communion — there is a time of confession and pardon. We come before Jesus and confess what has separated us from him and ask for his pardon.

Just as Jesus cleansed the temple by flipping tables, so too may we be cleansed. The act of communion, of being cleansed and sharing a meal with our God, empowers us to go into the world to live out Jesus’ teachings.

A church member, Dianne Richardson, wrote the following confession and pardon for this season of Lent. We must let Jesus flip the tables in our own lives so we can be people who live Jesus’ message of radical love for all.

Lord, we confess that when it comes to reflecting the glory of Jesus, we fall far short. We often think that being Christ-like means politeness, getting along, and the peace that is the absence of tension. We forget that confrontation can be an act of love, that real peace is the presence of justice. But knowing that standing up for what’s right often requires personal sacrifice, we confess that we often choose stability and comfort instead. We have chosen to be bystanders to systems of oppression operating in our society. We grumble. We get mad. We cower. Or worse, we throw up our hands and say that’s just how it is. We accept the things we think we cannot change. We wait for someone else to throw over the money changers’ tables. Forgive us, Lord, for our inaction and fear. Help us to remember that pursuing peace is work, that pursuing Jesus means we will make some people angry. Allow us to lead with courage when holy indignation calls for us to take action. Strengthen us with a firm and resolute knowledge of your unbounded love and forgiveness and a deep sense of gratitude and mission. Amen.
-Dianne Richardson
Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!