“Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.””
Mark 11:15-17 (NRSV)
Last week was one of immense difficulty for many of us. Not only were we continuing to deal with the ramifications of the coronavirus both individually and as a community, particularly as Black people. The deaths, the lingering health challenges, the unemployment, the uncertainty, the isolation, the limiting of resources, and so much more… But, last week brought with it an all too familiar cycle of brutality, abuse, and discrimination. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer, and the complicity of the other officers, in Minneapolis, Minnesota was another chapter in the centuries long book of violence and brutality against Black people (women, men, and children) in the so called United States of America. It was also a part of the decades long discrimination and further crimes against humanity committed by police/law enforcement against Black African Americans. This brother’s brutal murder was caught on camera and sparked national and international outrage.
His cries of “I can’t breathe!,” just like Eric Garner, fell on deaf ears in the moment, but it sounded an alarm throughout the country!
This has since led to the termination of all officers involved, and 3rd degree murder charges against the officer who held his knee on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd for 9 minutes.
Before the officer was charged with murder, however, protests began turning into riots in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. They then erupted all over the country. Much has been made of the rioting. There are groups of people who say rioting is wrong. They insist that this is not the way that you bring about change. And, they most certainly take issue with property being destroyed. This was evident when the reports that a target was set on fire started coming in. The irony is that their outrage appears to be greater for property than another human being that happens to be Black.
I have said it before and I will say it again… Jesus was/is the most notorious destroyer of property in human history. Is that statement too much for you? Did it go too far? Good! Scripture has a way of upsetting our preconceived notions about The Lord.
In Mark 11:15-17, Jesus and the gang have just entered Jerusalem. They quickly enter the temple in Jerusalem, which would have been the temple of temples and the epicenter of the Jewish religious/cultural community. It’s similar to the grocery store chain Wegmans that has locations up and down the east coast, as far as Raleigh, NC. But, the mother store is in Rochester, NY. This is the mother church. The mother temple. Jesus immediately entered and, “began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple…” There are different conclusions drawn about how he did this, but you can rest assured that it was not a soft spoken ask.
The scripture goes on to say, “and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” I don’t know what that sounds like to you, but it sounds like a one man riot! Like the song by Duckwrth and Shaboozeygoes, “Who in here tryna start a riot?” That would be Jesus!
Rioting involves destruction of property, particularly property that doesn’t belong to you. And, Jesus certainly destroys some property here. He flips over the money changers tables and the seats of those who were selling doves! These things didn’t belong to him, but, in his righteous indignation, he acted this way. Why did he do this? Surely it couldn’t have just been because they were selling stuff. We sell stuff all the time in church.
Well… Our Lord was righteously indignant because of what was really going on. This wasn’t simple buying and selling of things as a means to support the temple. The money changers and those selling doves were involved in a system that economically extorted and oppressed the most vulnerable of the society and those from other countries. Sound familiar to you?? That is why Jesus says, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”” The only money that was accepted in the temple was the temple currency. Folks had to pay a temple tax and then pay for the animals they would use for ritual sacrifice. That is, the animals that would be sacrificed for their sins to be forgiven. There was an inflated exchange rate that would have hit those from other countries hard while fattening the pockets of the money changers. And, if that wasn’t already whack, the sellers of doves and other animals had jacked up the prices, which also made them very wealthy. In addition, this marketplace was set up in the Court of the Gentiles meaning that the non-Jewish folks didn’t even get the opportunity to worship. Furthermore, the poorest of society would only be able to afford the doves, not any of the other animals. But, even the prices for doves was too much. So, imagine, not being able to afford even the lowest priced animal for ritual sacrifice. And, this is during Passover. This means that in the most holy season on the calendar your sins are not forgiven, at least in the sight of the religious authority, culture, and tradition. And, it’s all because your month is longer than your money. That probably doesn’t sit right with you, and it didn’t sit right with Jesus. So, to recap, they are taking advantage of people from other countries, they’re blocking people from being able to worship God, and they are economically exploiting those already in poverty. Jesus cannot allow this to continue uninterrupted and unchallenged. Lives are literally at stake!
When the protests in Minnesota turned into rioting, there was some discrepancy on how that came to be. Some activists in Minneapolis stated and showed video evidence that some of the rioting was sparked by undercover cops looking to turn the tide of public sympathy and outcry away from George Floyd. Nevertheless, when the rioting started we witnessed a Target and, on Thursday night, the Minneapolis police department set on fire! As I alluded to before, folks seem more concerned about this property than justice for George Floyd. Quite honestly, you’ll get absolutely no tears from me over the destruction of property, especially ones that can represent the very oppression that Jesus faced in his day. I won’t weep for companies that make billions in profit and refuse to pay their employees a living wage. I won’t weep for businesses that have received billions in stimulus money while everyday Americans received $1,200. I won’t weep for a building or any property with the insignia of law enforcement when that same building and that same insignia strikes terror into the consciousness of the very same citizens it should provide comfort and safety to. I won’t weep for the economically exploitative capitalist system being disrupted by the very same people it chokes the very hopes, dreams, and life out of. In short, I won’t weep for your institutions, systems, and funky little status quo being interfered with and challenged in a demonstrative way.
But, what about the looting?
Let me make this perfectly clear. There is a huge difference between rioting and looting. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “…riot is the language of the unheard.” For the rioter like Jesus, like the conspirators of the Boston Tea Party, and the rioters today, it is an expression of opposition to the injustice that is present. It is not concerned with respectability politics. It is also a strategic act of resistance, as disrupting the theeconomic, social, and political status quo always forces a shift to take place. It is selfless. Looting, on the other hand, is about selfishness. Those who are looting (many of whom are white) take advantage of the true anger and call for action from those who are fed up. They use it as a chance for a quick come up. They take for their own selfish purposes. They care nothing for the cause, and will use it as an excuse to distract from what people who are protesting and rioting are bringing attention to. In this case, justice for George Floyd.
Now, with all that being said, I also hear some detractors out there, “how can Rev. Stefan advocate people going to burn up and destroy everything?” One, that’s not what I’m recommending, necessarily (haha), and two, what I am advocating is the very thing that rioting is or causes. Disruption and Rebellion. That is what Jesus does – disrupt. He rebels. We should be rebelling against the harmful status quo by causing as much disruption as possible. We can and should be disrupting by not giving our money over to businesses and financial institutions that represent and profit from the very systemic oppression we’re seeking to eliminate. We can and should disrupt by flooding the phone lines of elected officials to draft and bring to a vote legislation that puts the cuffs on police forces ability to treat citizens this way and cover it up. We can and should disrupt by taking to the streets and not allowing the next sexy story to drown out our cries for justice. We can and should disrupt by ensuring that mail in balloting and other forms of voting are indeed utilized so that democracy and public safety can be assured. We can and should disrupt by strategically targeting the systems, institutions, and culture that directly contribute to the status quo of white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism, and more being maintained! That is the rebellion of Jesus!
Jesus shows us that there comes a time when you just have to turn up! The injustice has prospered for too long and too many lives have been swallowed up by it. Each of has to make the choice. Are we going to be bold and disrupt the status quo that has led to the suffering, exploitation, misery, and death of so man? Or, are we content with it as long as it doesn’t come knocking too hard at our doorstep? Choose ye’ this day.