Who’s turning over some tables already? A sermon on John 2:13-22 (part 2)

Hi friends,

Last week I shared the first half of a sermon on John 2:13-22, imagining what it might have been like to be among the crowd of folks coming to the temple to worship, when all of a sudden, Jesus starts turning over tables. 

Here’s part 2!


I wonder what kinds of perspectives or questions it opens up for us, when we put ourselves in the story from this angle—when we identify ourselves with these good religious people. 

These are people who are caught up in a system that they didn’t design, and that they recognize as corrupt and unjust, but that they also benefit from because they get to buy what they need to worship. 

These are ordinary folks, watching what Jesus does, and maybe having some mixed feelings about it. Maybe feeling a little appreciative. Maybe a little confused. Definitely shocked and disrupted by. It’s a shocking and disruptive thing.

The scripture says that these well-intentioned religious people responded to Jesus by asking, as one translation puts it, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Or, more literally from the Greek: “What sign will you show us, since you’re doing these things?”

What sign will you show us? Basically, prove yourself. Who do you think you are? What gives you the right?

I think this is a very telling response, and a very human one. I wonder if we might find ourselves in it. 

Jesus’ struggle in the temple courts is a struggle for inclusion, and a struggle for justice. No one should have to pay to participate in worship. No one should be exploited. No one should lack access to full inclusion in community. 

Jesus puts himself out there, in this story, to advocate for fairness and equity. For generosity rather than exploitation. For the ways of love and inclusion. For the removal of the barriers that keep people from fully participating in community, and in worship. 

He puts himself out there to advocate for the ways of God—a God who is always moving toward greater inclusion, and toward greater justice, toward the kinds of communities where everyone is flourishing fully.

Sometimes we might find ourselves out there advocating boldly like Jesus did, turning over some tables of injustice in our world. 

Other times, though, we might find ourselves more like the good religious folks in this story: participating in a broken, or corrupt, or unjust system—not because we particularly like it, but because we aren’t sure what else to do. 

And sometimes someone comes along and does or says something dramatic. Something table-turning. Something that’s meant to wake us up. 

Someone offers a critique or a perspective that maybe we didn’t see before. They imagine something different, something we weren’t yet able to imagine.

When that happens, what do we do with it? Do we ask for a sign? Do we ask them to prove their authority? Do we ask them what right they have to disrupt the systems we’ve grown comfortable with?

There are so many options for how the good religious folks could have responded to Jesus in that moment. I wonder what it would have looked like if, instead of demanding that he prove himself, they said something more like this: 

Tell us more about why you’re doing this. What do you see in this system that maybe we’re missing? What about it is so offensive to you that you can’t help but take action, whereas we didn’t really like it either but we weren’t necessarily going to do anything about it? 

What other kind of system or structure or practice do you imagine in its place? What do you want to see? What would make things right? What else can we build together?

In effect, these are ways of asking: Where did we get it wrong, and what can we do better?

The scripture text takes a line from a psalm and applies it to Jesus: Zeal for your house will consume me. When we encounter people who are consumed by zeal for justice, how do we respond? 

Maybe they’re zealous for racial justice, zealous for gender justice. Maybe they’re zealous for the worth and dignity of unhoused people. Maybe they’re zealous for the worth and dignity of trees and rivers and clean water. Maybe they’re zealous to address the climate crisis. Maybe they’re zealous for an end to genocide. How do we respond? How well do we listen? 

Do we ask them to speak a little softer? Jesus certainly didn’t speak softly in our story. 

Do we wish they were a little less dramatic? Jesus was making whips and turning over tables and scattering coins. 

Do we try to require them to dress in a certain way, or do their hair in a certain way, or use certain nicer-sounding words, or make smaller and more reasonable-sounding demands? Jesus did not mince words, and he drove everybody out. 

Do we expect zealous people to settle for the gradual change that might come from working within the system for a long time? Jesus moved with urgency.

I’ve been reading author and activist Ijeoma Oluo’s latest book, Be a Revolution: How Everyday People Are Fighting Oppression and Changing the World–And How You Can, Too. It’s full of prophetic voices for peacemaking, love, inclusion, justice, and flourishing. 

As I read Oluo’s thoughts, and the thoughts of the many activists she interviews for the book, I find myself challenged by the distinction they draw between reform vs abolition when it comes to the criminal justice system. Reform tries to reduce harm within the existing system; abolition imagines ways of accountability and restorative justice that don’t rely on punishment. Abolition also seeks to build social support systems that make it so that people don’t resort to crime to meet their needs.

I think of these activists’ abolition work as not unlike what Jesus did in the temple. Where there is injustice, God is always turning over the tables. 

Maybe sometimes we’re called to turn over those tables, too. And maybe sometimes we’re called to ask, Who’s already doing some meaningful table-turning work? What might we learn from them about where we’re going collectively wrong and how we can do better? What kinds of support do they need, and how might we follow their lead? What do they want to build instead, and how can we participate?

We all have different styles and personalities and ways we can contribute. 

Maybe for some of us it is leading protests or making other dramatic calls for change. 

Maybe for some of us it’s less of the big dramatic table-turning gestures and more of the quiet one-on-one conversations where we offer perspectives and stories that might move someone to see a different perspective or care about people they didn’t care about before. 

Maybe we write letters to the editors of our local papers. 

Maybe we volunteer or work with an organization that’s seeking justice in some way. 

Maybe we get involved with a political campaign of someone we believe will really make things better for people, especially the most vulnerable people among us. 

We show up for, support, and make room for the voices of others who are called to speak boldly. It’s all important. 

Jesus is still turning over tables. God is still moving toward greater inclusion and justice. God is still moving against unjust practices and systems, and building something new in their place.

Whether or not we’re turning over tables in dramatic-looking ways ourselves, we can perk up our ears and pay attention to those who are. 

We can open our minds to the table-turning calls for justice and human flourishing—even (or especially) the ones that might sound a little more radical than we’re used to or comfortable with. 

We can make an intentional effort to listen, to really listen, to those calling for these things with zeal. 

We can let our imaginations be expanded by those who see things differently from the way we do, but who are pointing us in the kinds of directions we want to move in.

And as we do so, we find that we are following the lead of our justice-bringing, all-people-including, exploitation-upending, endlessly creative and infinitely loving God. 


That’s the sermon! What thoughts does it spark for you? What are you learning about your own role within the expansive realm of justice-seeking, inclusivity-building work? 

Wishing you meaningful avenues of joining in God’s table-turning work this week, in ways that make sense for you,


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