We recently shared an image that caused some of you to become rather upset. The picture, a version of which you can find here, shows the parable of Jesus when he cleansed the temple with the caption “Destruction of property is not a valid form of protest…”.
The larger complaint was that the meme was a fail as it lacked context and that the referenced story was oh so poorly understood. One cavalier commenter chimed: “It’s not like context matters anymore…Anything to justify the insanty, right?”
As no deeper insight was offered we decided to look further into the matter on our own journalistic integrity. Had we nailed it with this random image provided by the collective internet consciousness unbidden in our early morning toiletries? Or is this just another fine instance of memes glazing over the deeper meaning of something with a coat of easily digestible snarky humor?
Let’s look at what it states in essence:
Jesus protested what was taking place and used destruction of others property to accomplish the communication of his frustrations, and in his mind the correction of the situation.
On the face this parable is taught to children and followers of the faith as a simple tale of Jesus visiting the temple, seeing ‘money changers’ and people selling sacrificial doves, at which point he starts flipping tables and driving out the animals being sold exclaiming:
“Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
Some details that get left out in the retelling that are only picked up by reading the text itself includes the fact that upon seeing the situation at the temple Jesus went and:
“He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables,” – John 2:15
He didn’t act purely in the moment, right then in there. He went and made a WHIP and proceeded to use it. The whip isn’t mentioned in the second cleansing – the incident in John being one of TWO times he cleansed the temple, the first in John after a wedding with the second recorded in the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke being near the end of his ministry, close to Passover. You,uh, knew he did it twice, right?
Unless details were missed in the accounting in the book of John what we see here is, as said: Jesus protested what was taking place and used destruction of others property to accomplish the communication of his frustrations, and in his mind the correction of the situation.
Here is some additional context for those unfamiliar with why money and animals were in the temple in the first place. In those times the act of ‘atonement for sin’ was made by sacrificing an animal. As temples were often located far from where the people lived it would be very difficult to carry sacrificial animals all that way; as such vendors opened shop in the temple to sell animals for this purpose, supposedly at low cost as a charity. Money changers too were at the temple to facilitate the exchange of money for distant travelers, increasingly at profit for themselves.
By this time in history the church had grown to such an extent that, as is with all the dealings of man, that which starts out as a good idea to help others often goes wrong and ends up being a means of padding pockets. In both instances Jesus specifically called out the money changers, who he knew were skimming money beyond what would be fair, as well as the sellers of animals for profit and physically drove them out.
When he was immediately confronted by the temple priests and asked “by what authority did you do this?” he replied with a metaphor about tearing down the old temple and rebuilding it in 3 days. This was speaking of the old established way of atonement and sacrifice being replaced by him, the new blood covenant that would be sacrificed.
Details of the second cleansing are more sparse, but after cleansing the temple it was recorded that he spoke to the people there and healed the sick; perhaps because of such wasn’t confronted the next day when he went back to teach again. Once more the priests asked “by what authority did you do that?” to which he replied with his own question, implying a holy subversion:
“I, too, will ask you one question. If you answer it for me, I will also tell you by what authority I am doing these things. Where did John’s authority to baptize come from? From heaven or from humans?” – Matt 21:24
One could certainly call his anger righteous and warranted, as people were being taken advantage of by those they trusted to lead them spiritually. However, the progressive religious ideas expressed could in some opinions tarnish his efforts in protecting impoverished people with megalomania.
Jesus was a radical man! Not only standing up for the little person while standing up to the corrupt capitalists of the time, but also challenging the established religious political control system as well…by…( wait for it! )protesting what was taking place…and using the destruction of others property to accomplish the communication of his frustrations, and in his mind the correction of the situation.
The meme, as good memes do, perfectly illustrates the point by presenting a socially and historically relevant message in a simple visual medium that is able to be understood by wide range of people. In this case, it uses a religious image which will likely cause an emotional reaction in the people who maybe need it most. But then, maybe we have the meme confused with that other other time Jesus cleansed the temple?
We do not condone violent protest, but we understand it.
We don’t think it accomplishes as much of what the people enacting it hope it does, but we understand the primal humanness of its nature. Stay safe out there, take care of yourselves and each other…wasn’t that something else that guy said?