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About those tables… Some thoughts on today’s Gospel

(This was also published at the Times Union website today.)

Recently I heard a priest tell a story about when he was growing up. This man is probably about 6 or 8 years younger than I am. He is younger, this I know to be true. He is very gregarious and very funny, but like so many funny people, he is actually saying something serious almost all the time. He was telling us that when he was a kid, sometimes it seemed that all he ever learned was that Jesus handed out daisies. Oh that image, Hippy Jesus, nice all the time and always feeling kind of groovy, mellow and cool.

Forgive me if you find me irreverent, but that is how the image pops up for me. And frankly, it is an image of Christ that I am not too fond of.

While we are at it, I find that the idea that Jesus is judging us with suspicion all the time, and making sure that we behave, is not helpful either. Oh Jesus help us! Jesus holding our hands and giving out daisies is not helpful; Jesus smacking us down. Is this the best we can do?

Why must we project all this on the Lord? OK, OK – for the record, I have spent time in both camps; Tough Love Jesus and Hippy Jesus. At least in my own discernment, I found that those images had a lot more to do with me and where I was at that time, than with Jesus. On knowing God, St. Augustine said, “Si comprehendis, non est Deus.” (If you think that you understand God, that is not God.) Quite simply, God is beyond our comprehension. No one appreciates facile descriptors more than I do, but comforting as they may be, they are not be helpful in the end, if you ask me.

Bear with me as I add one more quotation, from Anne Lamott this time, “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Whether it is Hippy Jesus, or Tough Love Jesus, if he is just hating on the people you are not happy with, that is probably not Jesus.

*sigh* I know, what a drag.

This may be why I alternately like and then dislike considering what is happening in today’s Gospel from John. (Complete Scriptural texts here.) Is this Tough Love Jesus, out of patience and with instructions for sending us to h-e-double hockey sticks? Where is that Hippy Jesus, replete with daisies, when we need him? As with any Gospel, we can read, proclaim and believe what we have read, yet the danger always exists that we will create all kinds of things in our own image as we go along.

Many people like this Gospel because it illustrates that Jesus means business and that he is not fooling around. Forget those dang daisies! Jesus is not some crazy liberal, handing out flowers and making peace signs! He is turning tables over with force! He’s got a whip! Watch out people!

Now many daisy Jesus inclined people, with the best of intentions, might say that this is how Jesus confronts the dark materialism of our time. Jesus is not some dastardly conservative; the tables of Wall Street and the 1% better know that they are on notice!

What is happening here? If I put myself in the story, who am I here? Who are any of us here? After all, the Gospel is always about us as God’s people. It feels scary to think about this outburst. Jesus seems to be very clear in wanting to redefine what the temple is

(Hard to believe that we are only in Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel and it was not that long ago Jesus did not even want to listen to his mother and turn water into wine! Suddenly, now he has taken a real turn, by literally driving out the moneychangers, with a whip!)

Perhaps if we look at the first and second readings we can gain some insight to this scene. In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, we are given the commandments. These commandments are given to the Jews to draw them into a covenant with God. God self-defines with clarity, “I am the Lord, your God” at the outset, adding that no other gods should come before God.

What other gods are the tables of our own personal marketplaces? As I start to think about what tables Jesus wants to turn over in my own heart, I want to hide. Except that I can’t really hide from Jesus; even if I delude myself into believing that I have created a safe distance from him with all those darn tables in my heart.

The second reading is short and to the point, as St. Paul addresses the Corinthians. Signs? Wisdom? How is this for you, Christ crucified is it. That’s a pretty big table turner if you ask me. All the words – and as you can see, I am a big user of too many words mean nothing. Christ crucified, the ultimate table turner is what we live.

At least theoretically, right?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but as I spend time with these readings, and having heard them in church on Saturday night, all I can think of is how Jesus is addressing all of us. Both daisy-bearing Jesus and Tough love Jesus, make for some nice images perhaps, but not really helpful. The daisies and the tough love themselves are tables in my own heart, and they – along with so many other tables, are in need of turning and in need of turning now.


3 Responses

  1. […] tables… Some thoughts on today's Gospel « Pastoral … 10 de março de 2012 Origem: https://pastoralpostings.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/about-those-tables-some-thoughts-on-todays-gospel/ Some thoughts on today's Gospel. Posted on March 11, 2012 by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn. (This was […]

  2. […] If you did not already read it, here is yesterday’s piece. […]

  3. Fran, I so love what you’ve done here. It’s so important, I think, that we not filter Jesus’s behavior to suit our purposes, but look at it head-on in its true context. And you hit the nail on the head: it’s about allowing what we see in Jesus to change us, not changing Jesus to find what we want to see.

    This episode always stuns me and breaks my heart, because it is also the start of Jesus’s sacrificial act. He exhibits such extreme behavior to get the wheels turning toward Calvary by outraging the Temple rulers to the point that “something has to be done”. So for me this is also the Realistic and Courageous and Submissive-to-God’s-Will Jesus. And you’re ever so right: all of these Jesuses turn over the tables of my heart. To be one of them–let alone all of them–would be a true accomplishment.

    Thank you for prodding our thoughts in new directions!


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