Jesus rejects power that dehumanizes and exploits. In literally clearing out the Temple, Jesus creates for us space for two things.
First, his dramatic reaction to what was going on in God’s holy space can help us understand racism in the context of power. Jesus did not flip the tables because of prejudices, or the actions of particular merchants, or the privileges the sacrificial system awarded some people. Rather, he was enraged by an entire system that benefited a few precisely by taking advantage of many others. He was disgusted that this power masked itself in the name of upholding the religious law. Power is deceptive like that and Jesus wants none of it. He names it and denounces it unequivocally.Second, Jesus creates space for anger and disruption in answering the call to justice. While his entire ministry is an invitation to reimagine the power of a life lived in right relationship with God and others, in the Temple he is all about disruption. Jesus is angry. Turning over tables. Shutting it down. No more business as usual. No justice, no peace. Since the exploitative and deceitful power of racism is baked into just about every system that makes our communal lives possible, resisting it will require some disruption, some interruption, some very tough love.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.” Jesus doesn’t walk away from the chaos he creates in disrupting power. Rather he doubles down in his promise to correct it with a new kind power—a power with and for others rather than over them.
- What power needs to be corrected in our own lives?
- What might our resistance to disruptive actions unfolding around us tell us about our relationship to exploitative power?
- How can we make space for disruption?
After eight years in the Theology Department at Fordham University, Maureen H. O’Connell returned in 2013 to her native city of Philadelphia to Chair the Department of Religion at LaSalle University where she is also an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics. She holds a BA in History from Saint Joseph’s University and a PhD in Theological Ethics from Boston College. She authored Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in an Age of Globalization (Orbis Books, 2009) and If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice (The Liturgical Press, 2012), which won the College Theology Book of the Year Award in 2012 and the Catholic Press Association’s first place for books in theology in 2012. Her current research project explores racial identity formation, racism, and racial justice in Catholic institutions of higher education. She serves on the board of the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies and is a member of St. Vicent De Paul parish in Germantown, where is also a member of POWER (Philadelphians Organizing to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild). POWER is an interfaith federation of 90-faith communities committed to making Philadelphia the city of “just love” (as well as “brotherly love and sisterly affection”) through a more just wage for workers, fair funding for public schools, immigration reform and decarceration.