“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” This phrase reminds me of many conversations I have had over the years in which people have asked me if the school administration can force them to do something, of course the answer is always, yes your boss can tell you what to do while you are at work; but of course that is not really what is going on here. The Chief priests and elders are upset because Jesus has just ransacked the temple. He has chased away the money changers and people selling doves for sacrifice and they are upset because he has messed with the system that has not only worked for them, but that benefits them. In many ways this story is about justice or at least the fight for justice. Let me explain. The temple was the place people came to seek a connection with God, it was a place they turned to when their lives were not going so well; but the rules said that to gain access to God, through the temple, you had to offer a sacrifice and the rules were very strict about what an acceptable sacrifice was. Which is why there were people there selling doves and ready to exchange your money into the local currency, for a fee of course. What this means is that access to God had been, over time, reduced to a commodity and morphed into a corrupt money-making scheme that preyed on the poor and downtrodden. Jesus was attempting to restore the temple to a place of prayer; a place of learning; and a place that gave open access to all, and he did so using the authority given to him by God to seek justice through love.
There has been a great deal of justice seeking over the past 400 years of American history and especially recently and I am hopeful that positive change may be on the horizon; however, I have noticed a trend that is disturbing me. I have noticed an increase, or at least what I perceive as an increase, in the use of demeaning or degrading language and actions between people that disagree with one another and believe me when I say that I, like most, have been one of those people from time to time. That is until a few months ago, when I had participated in a Black Lives Matter march in Greenfield. I and my friend Derek both attended in clericals because we wanted to send the message that the church stands on the side of justice. The march went great and we were even thanked for being there with our collars on. I was greatly inspired to try to find more ways to get involved so I joined a few local groups on Facebook in an attempt to find out more ways I could be of help. Within a week I noticed a discussion about work details from the county jail and someone asked if they were paid for their work. It was my understanding that they were, so I responded and said as much. Within an hour I was corrected and informed that they were not paid. I politely said I stand corrected and was ready to move on with my life. The response I received to my post about standing corrected was less than dignified. I was chastised for speaking up about the issue without knowing all the facts and I was basically told to go pound sand. I was horrified at the response from this person and it caused me to leave the group, return to my shell, and return to wondering how I can work towards justice from afar because clearly new comers were not actually welcome. This incident has been on my mind ever since and it has caused me to think a great deal about the fight for racial justice, economic justice, and every other fight for justice you can think of.
What I have come to realize is that while I am firmly on the side of justice, I cannot claim that if I degrade the people who disagree with me. God has called us to aid in the fight for justice through love. Jesus did not chase the money changers from the temple because he hated them, he chased them away in order to restore full access to God to all people, including the people he had just chased away. Their actions were not only limiting access for poor people but was limiting their own relationship with God because their business ventures had replaced God in their lives. They were likely more concerned with the selling of doves and charging a fee than they were with helping people have the proper sacrifice. Jesus tells the chief priests and elders that the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven before they will, not because the tax collectors and prostitutes are better people, but because they had already turned their attention back to God and the men standing in front of Jesus didn’t yet understand that he was trying to help them change their focus as well. The chief priests and elders were looking for justice, but the justice they sought was their own. They wanted Jesus to get in trouble for messing with their system, they did not yet understand that Jesus was trying to obtain justice for everyone. If our quest for justice hurts people, if it denies people, if it demeans people, then how can we claim we are seeking justice? Justice belongs to everyone, not just the winners. That does not mean that we cannot disagree and argue with one another, but in the end, if we cannot embrace one another and I mean literally embrace and hug it out, then we can’t claim victory; we can’t claim victory because if we walk away mad or saying ‘haha I was right’ then that victory of justice is hollow. It is hollow because it is not rooted in love, it is rooted in ego, which means it is not a victory; it is just another example of human desire and greed masquerading as justice. As we move closer and closer to election day it is vitally important that we not only profess our faith on Sunday morning, but that we live our faith not only in the ballot box, but on social media and in how we interact with people who disagree with us. If your not willing to hug it out, if you not willing to shake hands; then don’t claim victory because a victory without love has no meaning.