by M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.
In writing about the meaning of discipleship in John’s Gospel, Wes Howard-Brook suggests that we understand Jesus’ overturning the tables in the temple as his “mission statement.”*
The money changers and the merchants selling sacrificial animals have gotten into the temple precincts through a corrupt arrangement made between the temple elites and the Roman authorities. The rates of exchange and the price of the animals are set to maximize profits and accommodate bribes. This arrangement takes unfair advantage of the people, especially the poor who have no option, no choice. For, living without option, without choice, is what being poor means.
But Jesus created an option where non existed; he made a way out of no way. Quite literally, he turned things upside down, rearranging the physical and mental furniture. Jesus sent up a “sign” that something new and different might yet be possible. The poor saw in him someone who would not accept the unjust status quo without putting up a struggle. The religious elites, merchants and money changers were put on notice; someone knows about their exploitation of the poor, bribery and fraud.
In acting out his mission statement, Jesus provoked a “krisis” (in the Greek). He confronted the people with a grave “moment of decision,” a choice of life or death. They could trust in Jesus and his struggle for the God of life or continue their habituated endurance of the status quo.
When we encounter Jesus, we too encounter the same “krisis,” the same moment of decision: either we trust Jesus and his struggle for the God of life, or we surrender to the idols of the status quo. The choice of life or death is ours.
* Wes Howard-Brook, “John’s Gospel’s Call to Be Reborn of God,” 85, in The New Testament–Introducing the Way of Discipleship (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002), eds. Wes Howard-Brook and Sharon H. Ringe
This reflection was written by M. Shawn Copeland in the reflection booklet, To Live the Passion and Compassion of Jesus: Reflections for Lent 2003. The artwork is by Jhoti Sati. This year’s reflection booklet is by Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Colleen Kelly, From Ashes to Resurrection, Dust to New Life, and is available as a download for purchase from the Pax Christi USA website. For more reflections and resources for Lent 2012, click here.