Posted by: rogermitchell | January 21, 2011

The demonstration in the temple

Work I have just completed on Jesus’ so-called cleansing of the temple coincides with the embodiment of it by Chris Cole, the Catholic activist, which has come to a climax over the last few days. It seems to me that his actions, which have landed him a 30 day gaol sentence, are an example of what I mean by re-activating the incarnation.

Let me explain this as simply as I can. I believe that the story of Jesus reveals the character of God fully lived out in human life in our space and time, or incarnation for short, which I take to be a pretty basic Christian position. I therefore assume that those events which took place during 33 years or so and some 2,000 years ago were the interception of imperial time by incarnational time. If we are to break free from our contemporary western captivity to imperial time we need to re-engage with the incarnation. As I have discussed in recent posts, we do this by the exercise of living by faith, by abandoning ourselves to Jesus and jumping into incarnational time. But this is no risk in the dark; it is a leap into a testimony that is freely available to us in the texts of the four gospels.

But this is where something new must happen which it is important to grasp. We must avoid bringing the mindsets of imperial time into our interpretation of the story, or else we will end up subjecting Jesus and his ecclesia to empire all over again, which is what Christendom has been all about. Perhaps nowhere is there a better example of this than the familiar story of Jesus in the temple. The empire way of reading it is that Jesus regarded the temple as God’s house where appeasement was made for human offence against his divine sovereignty and in order to do this properly it had to be held in awe and that economics and trade infringed that, or something along those lines. It follows from this argument that Jesus felt so strongly about this that he manifest divine indignation by cleansing the temple of its traders. However, if God is not about enforcing his sovereignty like an offended emperor, and is full of love and mercy like Jesus, then we need to understand the story differently.

Once we drop the imperial baggage it is not difficult to see what Jesus is really doing. The key is his use of the radical Hebrew prophets in his declaration, which brings together statements from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:2: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it a ‘den of robbers’” (Mk 11:17). These two prophetic declarations align Jesus with the radical perception in which Isaiah states that the temple’s purpose is fulfilled as a house of prayer bringing blessing and belonging to eunuchs and foreigners. The den of thieves quote from Jeremiah makes clear that temple worship is only acceptable as long as this deeper practice of justice is in place. So the issue is not that a legitimate practice of appeasement is being desecrated but that the whole political and religious system embodied by Jerusalem and its temple has failed to fulfil God’s real purpose, which is the release of love and mercy towards the poor and marginalised, the immigrant and sexually disadvantaged. Instead it has become about establishing its own power and economic advantage. Driving out the merchants and money changers is Jesus’ demonstration against this travesty.

Today’s religious and political system has similarly failed. Its use of sovereign power to impose its way of life on the world is carried out by violent means that enable trade for financial gain in the buying and selling of armaments. It is this that Chris Cole has been seeking peaceful, but disturbing means to demonstrate against as he daubs buildings and obstructs conferences that are bent on making money out of violent domination.[] He and others like him are reopening Jesus’ time for us.



  1. It is very interesting. I like the two references, Isaiah and Jeremiah in related with the act of Jesus in the temple, it talks to me. I can see the greatness, goodness and love of God towards all. He makes no difference. What a challenge for us. We could also associate the Sabbath observance to the justice. It cited three times, so it’s important. God in the first place, the rest, the trust. And we find the first 2 commandments.
    I am learning a lot of incarnation.
    The act of Chris Cole is courageous, thank you for sharing him.

  2. Thank you Roger for a great piece. Very much in keeping with Chris’ thoughts on the temple. He’ll look forward to reading it when he comes out.

    Thanks for the support.

    Virginia (Chris’ wife)

  3. So Roger – it strikes me that your next work needs to be a commentary on the gospels. I think I need help learning to read them without the imperialistic mindset doing the interpreting. Clearly, what I’ve been taught is in need of revision. I write that with joy but I still think I need help in this.


    • And I was hoping for a rest! But that my work proves a catalyst for your astute thinking is a real encourgement to me.

  4. Think I agree with Cheryl

  5. I agree with Cheryl too!
    I have been disturbed lately at how nationalism has invaded evangelical circles in the USA. How do we avoid bringing imperial time into our everyday times when nationalism, in its worse sense, is elevated to the same level as devotion to Christ? We seriously need to re-read the scriptures having been enlightened by a renewed look at the incarnation and all that it practically means for how we interpret scripture and how we live free of the mindset that condones the misuse of authority as you mention. It has been a transformation in my own mind and your work has so helped me along the way to develop my conscience towards these issues. There are so many more of us that need HELP!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: