Entering the Building
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"
September 25, 2020, Words By: Tali Hairston, Image By: Jesus Mafa
Recently, our church community gathered in the parking lot of the campus. Together, like many other congregations, we are reflecting deeply about what it means to enter the building again. There are some Christians in the U.S who argue that entering the church building is a countercultural message to the world’s persecution of their faith.
But in our text for today, Jesus doesn’t enter the temple to serve a message to the world. Rather, he uses the opportunity to critique his own temple community in a way that still resonates with those who push against the traditions of our day. The traditions and systems that were designed to confer comfort upon him as a Jewish man simultaneously provided no space, no belonging, and no community to others. Disquieting to his own people, Jesus resists the comfort of his temple tradition and locates faith in the struggle of those “othered” by his own temple tradition.
In Matthew 21: 23 – 32, Jesus entered the temple courts for the second time in as many days. On his previous visit he had overturned the tables and chairs of those buying and selling goods. On his second visit, where we find ourselves in the text for today, the chief priests and elders were waiting for him, prepared to question his authority. Jesus’ words and actions in and among those of the courts grew more and more disruptive to the traditions and customs that worked to confer space, belonging, and community to some and not others. As a son in a Jewish family, Jesus was raised with an awareness of the temple court traditions and cultural norms, yet he chose to disrupt them even though they conferred comfort and status upon his personhood.
I still struggle to follow Jesus’ example as a ministry practice, but I am learning how to embody his practice of disruptively entering into spaces that confer comfort and status upon my personhood while excluding others. Admittedly, as a Black man, those affirming and comfortable spaces are few and far between in the United States. But as a man, they do exist. This practice of disruption is an act of resistance that identifies me with those for whom the traditions and cultural norms provide no comfort, sense of belonging, or community, let alone any sort of social status.
In the end, Jesus’ act leads him to identify with those outside the temple. He even goes as far as to align the tax collectors and prostitutes with John the Baptist.
Jesus’ act of disruption should raise the question for all of us: Who are those in our communities of which the traditions and systems confer no space? John Powell, noted educator on “othering and belonging,” preaches that to deny people full participation in society and to refuse to see the divine agency within them is to “other” them. Jesus walks into the temple and refuses to “other” tax collectors and prostitutes to the chief priests. Instead, he locates for the temple audience the divine in them.
As I envision myself outside the church building, listening to these narratives of entering the building for our own comfort or as a countercultural message to stand up for the faith, I get filled with doubt.
To be clear, enduring a pandemic is in no way equal to Jesus knowing he will face persecution and crucifixion by the same tradition designed to comfort him. Nonetheless, whether persecution or pandemic, I do not want to critique the comfort and community congregants long for by locating their faith in the faith of those othered by our own church culture and community. I would love to find an easier theology. Maybe, entering the church against government instructions as a countercultural message to the world is just that—easier.