What if it’s Love?
His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
March 5, 2021, Words By: Jenna Smith, Image By: Unknown
In the spring of 2012, a group of students from one of Montreal’s finest universities, Concordia, broke into the Dean’s office and ransacked it. They tore documents, broke the computer, and flipped the desk. This was part of a province-wide student strike against the tuition and fee hikes being imposed on our publicly funded higher education institutions. At its peak, a quarter of a million students took to the streets.
There was more than one ransacking of offices that spring. The gesture, criticized by many as the violent impulses of the impassioned youth, communicated discord and dissent, and also a desire for the overturning of power and wealth. The students’ movement no longer accepted a status quo of rising education costs, to be absorbed by a generation of younger workers whose student debt would be greater and buying power be less than that of their parents.
This is a completely different context and story than the one told to us in the Gospel of John about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. And yet, every time I read about Jesus madly driving out the merchants from his father’s house I wonder if there are parallels with similar acts of people through the ages walking into places of authority and power and creating some wreckage.
Pope Francis calls this story one of Jesus’ “prophetic gestures”. In the Gospel of John, where today’s reading is drawn from, this episode takes place at the very start of Jesus’ ministry (whereas in the Synoptic Gospels, it occurs near the end, merely days before his death). This timeline allows us to consider this “prophecy” not only as pointing towards his death and resurrection. But it is also prophetic of what his earthly ministry will look like.
He will disrupt.
He will question religious authorities and bother them with his treatment of the Sabbath, with his application of rabbinical law, with his teachings on salvation, with his “first shall be last” inconveniences, his utter disdain for our hierarchies of wealth and power.
He will cleanse.
He will touch the untouchables, he will heal the sick, he will restore the broken and the outcast.
He will drive out.
He will drive out demons, he will expose our untruths, he will lift the veil on our hypocrisy, he will bring to the surface the brokenness of religious institutions.
“My great love for your house will destroy me.”
And then, we must halt on these words, both beautiful and devastating.
What if this prophetic gesture, this moment of exasperation, this violent episode, this outward sign of an inward malaise – what if it was love? If it was love then we must add layers of complexity, reflection, intention, and emotion to Jesus’ apparent “loss of cool”.
This prophetic gesture, rooted in love, then sets itself apart, from acts of gratuitous revolts or violence or symbolic “giving the finger” to authorities. This is why, instinctively, intuitively, we accept certain acts of defiance, even violent ones, and others we admonish and reprimand. Our students’ outbursts of violence, back in the spring of 2012, still split opinions. Some regard their actions as cathartic expressions of anger, others as nothing more than troublemaking, and still others firmly support them as symbolic gestures in the fight for free education for all. The overturning, the “flipping of the tables” of an unjust and inequitable system.
Jesus’ example calls us to examine our own hearts and motivations. When we are uncomfortable with someone disrupting the system, do we ask ourselves why? In our own fights for a fairer, more just society, are we following the call of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, or are we acting out in rivalistic violence? When one looks to disrupt, cleanse and drive out in the spirit of Christ’s ways and flips some tables in the process, we have the opportunity to listen to the Spirit and ask ourselves: is this love?