Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, “It is written:
‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.”
The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them. – Matthew 21:12-14
How many of us have taken comfort in that story, when our anger at injustice prompted us to rage? When we have taken to Twitter to fume or when we have spoken divisively? When we have been destructive in the name of tearing down racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, or whatever other ill has driven us to act out?
If Jesus overturned tables, we tell ourselves, then it’s OK that I’ve made a little mess too.
I don’t doubt that God can use our ferocity for holy things, but I wonder if perhaps we are ignoring an important part of the story: The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them. And in the next chapter: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And at the end of his confrontation with the scribes and the Pharisees: “how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!”
Even when overwhelmed by his persecutors, even when he was only days from an end he did not yet fully understand, Jesus was loving and mercy-ing.
To this we are called as well.
On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the soundbytes we hear speak of a vision of something better than our broken world, when there is unity and peace and liberation. The vision is beautiful, and hearing it spoken aloud gives me goosebumps. It is rooted in a desire for the well-being of all people, and perhaps even in love.
I didn’t know MLK, like I didn’t know Mandela or Gandhi or any of the other leaders we hold up as models of how to fight the darkness while remaining in the light. I don’t know just how hard it was for them not to surrender to the righteous anger that can devour us when such anger is not rooted in love. But knowing what I know about human nature, I am willing to guess that it was challenging.
We want to believe that there are people who are magic: they have a temperament that allows them to be peaceful and loving, and if we do not have that temperament then we are off the hook.
When I first realized that I could change my heart trembled and then flew. How hard it is to make space for love of those with whom we disagree, who irritate us and fly in the face of how we want the world to be. But how astonishing when we crack open and let them in!
I believe Dr. King’s witness inspires us so greatly because he did what is so hard for so many of us: to do justice, and love mercy, and humbly walk with God.
So today when the hair on my arms stands up as I listen to a dream of unity, I close my eyes and remember that such unity begins inside my weak and growing heart.
What do our heroes of reconciliation inspire in you?
Images: Christ Cleansing the Temple by Bernardino Mei, 1655; image of Martin Luther King by Marion S. Trikosko, 1964, public domain courtesy the Library of Congress