Like fearless Jesus, I will whip it good

This morning in the Gospel of John I read this:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So I thought I’d quickly share with you a a couple of thoughts triggered by that passage.

First, isn’t it weird the way it feels like Jesus didn’t know what he’d find at the temple? It feels like he just wandered in, looked around, and went, “Whoa! What is all this bullshit?” Which to me is weird, because somehow I always figure Jesus is walking around just sort of knowing everything that’s going to happen. So I dig this feel that actual, physical reality surprised him the way it sure always does me.

What next really jumped out at me was, So he made a whip out of cords. Because … how did that work? Just the day before he had in an instant turned 150 gallons of water into top-notch wine. So this isn’t a guy who needs stuff to do stuff: with a deeply drawn breath he could have literally blown everybody away, hurricane-style. But instead he takes a moment to actually fashion a whip. So I picture him, fully enraged—but having to stop for a moment to look around for something he can use to effectively express that rage. So he must have gone up to someone there—like, a cord vendor at a nearby table—and said real quickly, “Yeah, can I borrow a couple of your cords? Just three of these long ones here should do it. I only need ’em for a moment. And afterwards you’ll have a souvenir you’ll want to hang onto. Trust me on that.” And then the cord guy’s like, “Daaaamn. That guy can really handle a whip. I should go into the whip business.”

But mostly what strikes me about this passage is how insane Jesus must have seemed. What he did is crazy public behavior. Even his disciples thought that he had been “consumed by zeal.” Consumed! As in “lost to.” As in full-on, snapped the [bleep] out bonkers. It’s like walking into the biggest, nicest bank in a big city and screaming “Get out! Everybody out!” while attacking and flipping over all the desks of the people who work there. Witnesses would be calling the police and punching their secret alarm buttons so fast they’d get carpel tunnel fingers. Everybody would be terrified. Because clearly there was a deranged psychotic in their midst.

So I love this passage, because it reminds me of how vital it is that I, like Jesus, don’t be afraid of sometimes seeming batshit crazy. When something is wrong it’s wrong. If it needs fixing now than now is the time to fix it. I don’t have to wait to right a wrong in a way that doesn’t upset anyone; I don’t have to worry about offending anyone, or making too much of a spectacle, or seeming the fool. Screw all that. If people want to point, be aghast, or even laugh at me, that’s none of my business.

Like Jesus I’ll simply make my business doing God’s business, and let the rest take care of itself.


I once began a series on John that started with The Trinity Explained in Four Sentences: John 1: 1-4

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  • Love your imagining of this scene, with Jesus having to find some cords and then take the time to make them into a whip. I think sometimes we forget to stop and actually think through Bible stories we’ve heard 100 times.

    Unfortunately I’ve seen many people take this idea (“When something is wrong it’s wrong. If it needs fixing now than now is the time to fix it.”) and use it as a weapon against other people. In the sense of “I need to tell this person that they’re going to hell RIGHT NOW, even if it offends them or makes me seem crazy.”

  • Mary

    A better comparison than a bank would be that Jesus walked into a church with a bookstore/gift shop right at the front door (of which there are many here in the Carolinas).

  • Lymis

    I’m not sure that a gift shop is quite the right modern equivalent. Maybe.

    I don’t know quite how Jesus would do the modern equivalent of making a whip to deal with it, but I’m pretty clear that the modern equivalent of what he was objecting to would be televangelists and politicized political website owners constantly demanding money so they can oppress people while living in mansions and flying in private jets.

  • Sometimes I cry and sometimes I go into a tirade against unjustice. Been pondering this “anger” business that Jesus knew so well. Discernment creates the move. Ready fire aim, sometimes. Thanks brother John.

  • Jill Hileman via Facebook

    Thanks for being that voice cutting through the dogmatic shit that scares people away and stops open dialog.

  • Anonymous

    This is timely. After a particularly eventful Thanksgiving, I’d been wondering how to handle that relative who makes the crazy offensive jokes. Let’s buy us some Mexicans, you should taxidermy the beloved family cat, that sort of thing. I just ignored it. Should I take the Jesus approach and say, “Hey, they’re people, too,” or “Hey, I really loved that cat. Show some respect.” Good idea? Bad idea? I was always trained not to rock the boat…

  • A few small but noteworthy points:

    Sacrificial animals could not be purchased with filthy Gentile luchre, so people wishing to acquire sacrificial animals first had to change their Roman coins into temple script (at a hefty service charge) and then buy the animals at considerable amount over market value. This is one of the reasons Ciaphas & family were so well hated by the average people of the era; they got a slice of this.

    Christ was objecting to the buying & selling of livestock & price gouging going on inside the temple grounds proper. Presumably he felt it distracted from the holy purpose of the place & should be conducted offsite.

    The “whip” is identified as a scourge, which is not like a bullwhip but more like a cat-o-nine tails. However, while the English word chords implies ropes, the original word leans more towards reeds like papyrus, so perhaps a better visual would be Christ pleating together some long reeds to make a weapon that would sting if it landed on bare flesh but do no real harm.

    Assuming that’s the case (and I may be off base here, so don’t take it as gospel 😉 ), then Christ probably went to the temple with a very specific agenda (i.e., to cleanse it, which he does as soon as he chases everybody out; the cleansing, BTW, was more insulting that the whipping b/c it was saying the temple and everything it in was unclean). He scouted out the layout, then went outside (doubtlessly with a crowd watching his every move), gathered up some reeds (so that the weapon would be natural and pure, not sullied by sinful human hands), pleated the scourge while the crowd watched (some of them doubtlessly anticipating what he planned to do with it), then he waded back into the moneychangers, using the scourge to disrupt the proceedings and drive them away w/o physically harming them.

    Yeah, somebody with presence of mind would realize the scourge was harmless & could just step up and overpower him, but most of the people he was attacking were doubtlessly shrinking back as he flailed at them.

    As to what he would do today against televangelists, etc., I’m guessing computer virus.

  • Not that it matters, but I actually do know all this stuff. But you know, I feel like it’s cool to actually talk about the text like ALL you know about it is what’s right there on its surface–right there, words only, no background. I feel like it MUST be dealt with, first and foremost, at that level. It’s just … the writer in me, basically. But ultimately, of course, the more you really know the deeper your appreciation. So I do appreciate you taking the time to share this fuller understanding.

  • Well, for what it’s worth, relative to the exact thing you’re talking about here I did write this:

  • So not Devo but Devoted

  • Anonymous

    I guess that’s what I’m struggling with– on one hand, I feel that it’s important that I speak up against intolerance anywhere, and on the other hand, it’s important that I build peace and love within my family.

    I’m not even sure what decision I’d live the most happily with, either. I don’t like confrontations or breaking the peace, so I wouldn’t feel good after that. At the same time, the things she said hurt me, a lot. I spent the next couple of days feeling crummy, and still harbor a lot of bad feelings over it.

  • My general rule of thumb is: A. Stupid people say stupid things, and B. You can’t fight stupid.

  • Donald Rappe

    “So I love this passage, because it reminds me of how vital it is that I, like Jesus, don’t be afraid of sometimes seeming batshit crazy.” Me too!

  • skip johnston

    I’ve always been fascinated by this verse because when I read “what’s right there on its surface–right there, words only, no background”, I get a different feel from it than what I’m usually told. While I get that Jesus’ “zeal” = some righteous anger, I see a scene of carefully disciplined action, not bat shit rage. So I see Jesus methodically making a scourge with which he “drives” out the sheep and cattle, NOT the people. He scatters the coins and tables, NOT the moneychangers. He tells the dove sellers, “Get these out of here!” But he doesn’t kick them out. In other words, I see a scene of Jesus’ zeal aimed at the THINGS that get in the way of worship, not the people—even if it is the people who are being idiots.

    Which gives me a whole lotta hope for myself.

  • What has always stood out for me in this story, and what you so nicely bring attention to, is how utterly confrontational and unselfconsciously Jesus approached this whole situation. But of course Jesus was Jesus and we’re just ourselves, so it’s wise to think twice before trying to become a modern-day temple-trasher. But that doesn’t mean we should just settle for the status quo — we have a powerful example in the person of Jesus for the necessity for casting aside our timidity in order to confront the wrongs we see around us.

  • I like what you’ve said, Skip–I like your calling attention to Jesus’ focusing his energy on the animals and tables, rather than the people. I carried with me that exact sentiment into my bank analogy: note there I have my imagined analogous-Jesus figure only turning over the desks of the people who work there. And (fwiw) I don’t say/think/imagine that Jesus was out-of-control raging: I said it must have seemed to others as if he were. Which is nice, cuz it helps me remember that if you’re doing something good and right it doesn’t matter what other people think of what you’re doing. Anyway, good to hear from you, and thanks for the great comment.

  • Allie

    I think you’re soft-pedaling the text. It’s pretty clear that a whip, even one made of reeds, is not used to knock over a table. It’s used to hit somebody. People don’t like to be hit, even with something that “only stings.” He didn’t nicely ask them to leave.

  • vj

    “casting aside our timidity in order to confront the wrongs we see around us”

    IOW: breaking the yoke of oppression and setting the captive free—exactly what God wants us to do 🙂

  • well, one answer might be, Fred Phelps.

  • Every christian is like a bible 2 unbelievers