Jesus and the Riots

16/08/11 | Posted by MattPage

It would probably be remiss of us not to write something on the riots, but as by now you’ve probably read or heard all the usual points made again and again, I thought I’d share something about the whole thing that’s been nagging away in the back of my mind.

Jesus’ clearing of the temple is one of the few stories in all four gospels.

It’s the story of Jesus clearing the temple, at its fullest in Mark 11:15-17 and as below in John 2:14-16:

In the temple courts he (Jesus) found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

Did Jesus start a riot? He clearly isn’t looting, but he’s undoubtedly angry, and carrying out a violent attack on ordinary shopkeepers. Move him on 2000 years and stick him in a hoodie and it’s the kind of behaviour that might find him on the front page of last week’s newspapers. After all, in the eyes of most of those present in Jerusalem that day, the moneychangers and the dove salesmen were just trying to earn a living, and one that was probably seen as a highly reputable to boot. Jesus’ actions were no less shocking to the people of his day that the events of last week were to us.

So what are we to do with this passage in light of current events, (not to mention the question of what are we meant to think about current events in the light of this story)? Was Jesus wrong on this occasion? Was his behaviour a sign of “moral collapse” as the Prime Minister put it the other day? Or is it that it’s our perspective that has become disconnected from its moral compass? Just as Jesus’ actions are usually seen as a judgement on the corrupt and unjust religious systems of his day, might our criticism of the rioters suggest that we are, to some extent, complicit in the oppressive economic and political systems of our day? Neither interpretation seems particularly attractive.

It’s true that the comparison is not entirely valid; after all, whilst the riots were no doubt fuelled by poverty, injustice and a lack of opportunity, they seemed like more of a way to vent anger than to make a protest about its causes. Yet the image of Jesus causing similar amounts of chaos – for any cause – is not one that sits comfortably.

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