Commentary on the Gospel of
He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, John 2:15
Earlier in my career, I was applying for a diocesan job in Catholic education, and I had advanced far into the process to an interview with a committee of stakeholders. I was poised and confident, and I was answering all the questions thoughtfully and thoroughly. That was until a pastor on the committee reminded me of how Jesus turned over the tables in the temple area, and he asked what my “table flipping” ideas were. I wasn’t prepared for that one. I mumbled some vague and incoherent answer about strategic planning and moved on to the next question. But, that question stuck with me, and I was able to revisit it as I prepared to write this reflection.
I think that in a glossed-over, candy-coated version of Catholicism, we can view Jesus through a narrow lens – focusing only on the spiritual and the divine. Of course, there is some merit to this. After all, scripture does provide ample opportunity to reflect on Jesus’s divinity. This passage, however, is a stark reminder of Jesus’s humanity. He got angry. He made a whip and drove out the animals. He scattered the money of the moneychangers. He literally flipped tables! What a sight that must have been in the temple square! Today’s Gospel reading confirms that Jesus, like us, felt emotions and responded in a human way. By challenging the economic apparatus in that time and place, Jesus redirects us to avoid the distractions of earthly rewards and to instead focus on our relationship with Him.
In today’s context, there is no shortage of earthly distractions. Just spend some time watching the 24-hour news cycle and we will see it unfold right before our eyes. And all too often, these distractions lead to grave social injustices that affect the poor and those on the margins. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” continues to expand, and it is all too easy for us to become numb and complacent in this stark reality. Contemporary moneychangers abound, and this season of Lent provides us the opportunity to challenge systems of oppression more intentionally when we see them.
So, as we reflect on this passage, we can ask ourselves the same question that was asked of me in that job interview years ago… what tables do I want to flip? What injustices will I confront and challenge in this Lenten season? And how will I do it? By fasting from the earthly distractions that surround us, we can more clearly see how the answers to these questions can lead us to build a more just world in support of those who need it most. In the end, serving as Christ's hands in this way builds up our humanity far more than earthly rewards that perpetuate systems of oppression.