Friday, October 28, 2011

Jesus Does Not Take Sides

Jesus doesn’t take sides, he takes over.  Contrary to popular belief, Jesus does not take the side of the poor against the rich: he invites both to respond to him, and challenges each that to do so will require a change of perspective and way of living.  In the last week there has been much public discussion in the UK as to what Jesus would say about the Occupy the London Stock Exchange campaign, and the decision of the Chapter at St Paul’s Cathedral to close their doors and then to initiate legal action against the campers, and off the Canon Chancellor to resign his post.

Jesus would not take the side of the protesters.  Not because he would take the side of the Cathedral, or of the Stock Exchange, but because he does not take sides.

In defence of the protesters, it has been noted that Jesus violently overturned the camp of the money-changers and sellers – the ultimate anti-capitalist act.  But that is poor exegesis.  Those who came to the temple had to present a sacrifice.  As it was not practical for pilgrims to bring animals with them, they could buy animals at the temple.  But pilgrims would have Roman coins, and those were considered defiling, and so they must first change them for temple coins.  It is often said that pilgrims were ripped-off, both in the exchange rate and in the price of animals.  But we have no evidence of this taking place.  We do have written and archaeological evidence of the system running, perfectly acceptably, immediately outside of the temple, up to the time of the destruction of the temple in AD70.  So why was Jesus so angry?  According to the Gospel accounts, he found this mechanism operating inside the temple, in the Court of the Gentiles, the provision for those of any and every nation to come into God’s house.  The ‘robbers’ were not financial robbers, but were robbing people of the opportunity to come into God’s house to worship, by occupying the space.  So Jesus evicts them, with violence.

For anyone who asks the question, What Would Jesus Do?, in relation to the protesters surrounding St Paul’s Cathedral in such a way that, while they are not doing anything wrong in-and-of itself, people cannot come in, I think that track-record suggests Jesus would evict them with violence.

That is not to say that Jesus would endorse the Cathedral Chapter, or the Stock Exchange.  Jesus does not take sides.  He would confront them, too, but in different ways.  In the case of the stock exchange he might tell a parable that exposes their greed and folly, and reminds us that God will bring all to account.  In the case of the Cathedral he might point out its grandeur, the very stones that tourists flock to see, observing that one day they will fall, and if they do not receive him that day might come sooner than they think.  Because Jesus does not come to take sides, but to take over.

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