by Joe Nangle, ofm
It’s a scene that makes us uneasy — Jesus causing conflict. The modern view makes him out to be a consoler, a comfortable presence, just a nice guy. He is there to make us feel good about ourselves, not rocking our boats.
Yet in the Gospel today he’s on a rampage, throwing the idolaters of money out of the temple’s sacred space, then confronting those who challenge his right to this consuming zeal for God’s house.
An angry Jesus, a Jesus who gets into disputes and shows himself disagreeable, throws us off. As products of our culture, we avoid confrontation. We like to be liked and likable. Yet here we have the Teacher being anything but likable–he’s downright obnoxious as he drives the money-makers out of the Temple, knocking over their tables and spilling their coveted coins all over the place in the process.
The lesson for us is clear, a Lenten meditation. If our discipleship is authentic, we cannot avoid conflict any more than Jesus could. In fact, as the daily Lenten readings begin to remind us, a constant reality of Jesus’s ministry was confrontation. As his public life unfolded and his agenda became known to the power structure of that time, he found himself in serious disagreement on a daily basis with those who had most to lose as a result of what he was saying.
We really have no choice but to learn the lesson of conflict as a hallmark of discipleship, given the world of anti-Gospel values we inhabit. To be part of today’s American society as followers of Jesus means being out of place, misfits, round pegs in square holes. Like Jesus in his time, our lot is to be confrontational, subversive, disruptive of so much that surrounds us. Look at some examples of our national life.
The weakest in our society–especially single mothers, their children, and the elderly–see the little they have being taken from them in what astute economists describe as a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.
Our national policy discriminates against the strangers among us, those whose homelands have become unlivable. Even immigrants who are here legally have their social and economic needs denied.
We place no restrictions on late-term abortions, despite all the evidence that these procedures border on outright infanticide and inflict gruesome pain on their little victims.
We kill people convicted of capital crimes, the only country in the industrialized world which continues this barbaric practice.
We rank first in the production and sale of weapons to the countries of the world, even to poor countries, where better schools, health care and security for the neediest, not guns, are urgently wanted.
The examples go on and on.
The Gospel fairly shouts for people of faith to break our national consensus around these and so many other idolatries. Surely our imitation of Jesus and this Lenten walk with him must include a protest against out national sins. Even if our natural bent is not to speak out, not to object, not to disagree, this time of renewal is our opportunity. We have, fortunately, many brothers and sisters in the household of faith who have confronted the powers and principalities of this world. We only have to join one of these communities of resistance to find courage and companionship in continuing Jesus’s struggle with the demons of his time and ours.
* This reflection appeared in Lent 1997: Following Jesus on the Way to Calvary, published by Pax Christi USA.