Jesus Flipping Tables Shows us Peaceful Anger

What Jesus Flipping Tables Can Teach Us Today

Some things push Jesus over the edge. In the final days before His death, Jesus goes to the Temple and drives everyone out of the courtyard. Jesus flips tables, shouts a lot, and seems pretty upset about something, but what? 

We get a clue from Jesus’ words. As Jesus drives the people out and commits minor vandalism, he combines two Bible verses together and says:

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you are making it a den of robbers.” Isaiah 56:7, Jeremiah 7:11

  • The “house of prayer” passage comes from Isaiah 56 which describes the Temple as a place for anyone to come and experience God. This was in contrast to the ancient understanding of the Temple as a place reserved for God’s chosen people. 
  • The “den of robbers” line comes from Jeremiah 7, where the prophet accuses the religious leaders of corruption. They let their greed for wealth and power allow them to neglect hurting people. 

So it doesn’t take a Bible expert to know what Jesus is saying. He’s accusing the people in the Temple of letting money get in the way of people experiencing God. But how does selling things in the Temple create injustice?

Well, Jesus’ people relied on the Temple. It was a social and spiritual gathering place. People from all over would come to give offerings, hear from respected leaders, and hear from God. 

The Temple was more than just a building; it was the meeting place between heaven and earth. But not just anyone could enter the Temple. The different sections were restricted to people who met specific requirements. But there was one place where anyone could go to worship, but something had gone wrong. 

The Love Of Money

What do Times Square, the Grand Canyon, and the Eiffel Tower have in common? They’re famous places. And what do almost all famous sites have? A large number of businesses designed to profit off travelers. The same was true for the Temple. 

But the Temple was a place to meet with God, not a tourist destination. But these business owners set up shop inside the Temple anyway. So the one section devoted to inclusive worship had become a shopping center. 

Who’s Hurt By This Injustice?

The inclusive space/marketplace was called the women’s court. It was the only space where women were allowed to worship at the Temple. They were the ones most affected by the invasion of small businesses in the Temple. But their cry of protest fell on deaf ears.

Of course, the religious leaders controlled the Temple, and they certainly could have driven out the businessman before it became a problem. But instead, they valued money over marginalized people. 

Jesus Flipping Tables

So Jesus starts flipping tables. Why? Because he sees three things:

  1. Religious leaders ignore the cry of marginalized people.
  2. Wealthy men profiting off people’s worship.
  3. Women and other cultural outsiders who had lost the house of prayer. 

Peaceful doesn’t mean passive

Jesus’ actions can feel disturbing to some. After all, isn’t Jesus supposed to be peaceful? It’s valid to feel uneasy with the idea of a rage-filled Jesus brandishing a whip as people swarm toward the exit. But I think this story can actually help us understand what it means to be peaceful in the midst of injustice. 

Think about the most recent injustice you’ve seen or experienced. How did it make you feel? I’m guessing anger was near the top of the list. Anger isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a natural response to seeing and experiencing injustice. Anger only gets us into trouble when it leads us to harm ourselves or others. But we can also let anger motivate meaningful change. 

Jesus doesn’t harm any people in the Temple. Sure, he certainly scared some people, and did use a whip to get the animals to leave the Temple. But things could have been much worse. Just imagine if Peter led the charge into the Temple. The same Peter who would chop a guy’s ear off a few days later. 

Jesus’ anger led him to a passionate and provocative response. But his anger didn’t lead him to harm people.

How Do We Follow Jesus’ Lead?

What’s the cause you’re passionate about? Maybe it’s caring for unhoused people with dignity. Or it could be advocating for meaningful reforms to reduce violence. No matter what it is, your passion is probably partially anger-fueled. 

Your anger isn’t sinful, in fact it can be used to motivate meaningful change. So don’t hide from it. Instead, embrace your God given anger against injustice. But in your anger, remember that God has called us to love everyone, even our enemies. 

Don’t let anger define you. 

As a quick reminder, Jesus got angry, but anger didn’t define him. Sometimes people use the story of Jesus flipping tables to justify all kinds of harm. But Jesus’ ministry was defined by kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness. So while anger is inevitable, we can’t let it control us. 

So don’t believe the lie that all anger is evil. But also, don’t believe the lie that “righteous anger” gives you permission to do hateful things or use hurtful words. 

Jesus invites us to partner with him in saving the world. We do that by embodying his lifestyle of peaceful resistance. We love, forgive, and fight against injustice. But as we fight, we remember to honor the dignity of every person, even our enemies

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