My Temple will be called a house of prayer… Matthew 21:13 (NLT)
Jesus and His Whip
I grew up in a small West Texas town and attended a small evangelical church my entire childhood until I moved to Australia at 18. Most of what I was raised to believe about Jesus I still affirm today, and I’m very grateful for my upbringing. However, as a near 35-year-old, and having seen a bit more of the world since childhood, I’ve realized people’s perceptions of Jesus are influenced by the culture they live in.
Everyone has a favorite lens they view Jesus through, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t any exceptions.
By the way people talk about Jesus back in my hometown, you would assume he’s a Wrangler blue jean wearin', Chevy Truck drivin’, Republican votin’, Mega Church pastor who died to protect the 2nd Amendment.
Along with a preferred image of Jesus, every culture has their favorite passages about him, too. In my neck of the woods, they love to talk about Jesus and His whip (you can find the story in Matthew 21). Which intrigues me because I really haven’t heard much commentary about that passage since leaving Texas. But don’t be surprised if you’re on the phone with one of us, or engaged in a Facebook debate, and the famed story of “Jesus cleansing the temple with a whip” gets brought up.
What I’ve come to realize is we all do it. All of us have our particular lenses and favorite passages, but what does that mean? What does this say about us?
Ultimately, I believe it's our way of making God in our own image. We resonate with stories and pictures that confirm WHAT we want to believe about God. This is known as confirmation bias.
After a recent conversation with a family member when, yet again, Jesus’ beloved whip was brought up, I’ve been thinking a lot about this passage. On face value, it DOES appear that Jesus lost his temper and quickly became the “proof text” condoning violence, or at least employed the threat of violence, to achieve one’s goal. Is this a matter of interpretation? Does this story translate differently in different cultures? Brian McLaren offers some helpful insight into the 1st-century Jewish culture in which the event occurred:
“As the Passover holiday approaches, Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the center of religious and political life. He moves directly to the temple where he finds cattle, sheep, and doves being sold in preparation for the annual Passover sacrifice, just as one would suspect. He plaits some ropes together into a whip and drives the animal sellers and their animals out of the temple, along with those who exchange currency (making a profit exchanging foreign money for temple coinage), turning over their tables and scattering their coins.
…perhaps it is the cost of sacrifice that Jesus protests. Perhaps it is the entire belief system associated with sacrifice, based on the long-held belief that God is angry and needs to be appeased with blood. Perhaps Jesus is overturning that belief along with the cashier's tables, along with the whole religious system built upon it.” (1)
In my opinion, Jesus could be staging a prophetic protest; an ending of an era. He even eludes to the destruction of the temple and how it will be rebuilt it in 3 days. His “anger” was a prophetic act signaling the end of the sacrificial system, which had become so corrupt, people were profiting off of animal blood, profiting from exchanging money into temple money so that others could “buy their way in.”
Do we really think the creator of the universe lost his cool and wanted the temple cleansed? Or was he so angry at the injustice that had inevitably come when religious people try to dictate who’s in and who’s out when his house is for people of “all nations”?
How are we guilty of this today? What tables would Jesus overturn in my heart? What beasts would he drive out of my belief system? Would I miss the entire point of this passage because my nature wanted to use this as a proof text that violence is permissible?
If it is, what is Jesus ACTUALLY angry about? In my opinion, if we want to apply this story about Jesus to our lives, it means our anger should be directed at systems that only benefit those with means to participate; systems that keep some in and others out.
Written by (our great mate) Tyler Hudson.
Married to Libby, father of 3 (or more at any given time), Tyler was born and raised in Texas, and now resides in Australia. His life’s mission is to cause people to reconsider what they think they know through music and words.
(1). Brian McClaren. The Great Spiritual Migration. Pg 27.