Into The Woods
This past Sunday, we read scripture on Jesus turning tables at a temple. I’ve always liked this story. In a world that profits from the status quo, anything remotely subversive is deemed harmful. I wonder what people said about Jesus after he acted out. Turning water into wine was a cute party trick, but turning tables? No thank you! Maybe Jesus just wanted some attention. Surely his antics did more harm than good for his cause. Had the time come to cancel Jesus?
I am very aware that as a cis-gender, white, able bodied woman, I benefit from a modern version of the same system Jesus called into question. Sometimes when I have attempted to follow the Gospel, I’ve been called mean, rude, ignorant, or un-ladylike. Sometimes they’re right. I miss the mark—I am human after all.
Sometimes, though, the real criticism is the message, not the method. Do you think the money changers at the temple would have responded better to Jesus if he had politely asked them to change their practices? When Jesus turned the tables, he was making a statement to those in power, sure. But more importantly, he was making a statement to the marginalized and oppressed. There’s space for you here, too.
So here we are, in the middle of Lent, grappling with what it means to fast and feast at tables, and what it means to flip them entirely. Can we go inward; repent, and look outward; seek justice, at the same time?
A few years ago, I remember coming to church exhausted and heavy hearted. A burst pipe had flooded our apartment, and we’d been living in hotels for two weeks. Despite my best efforts to work with our landlords, they seemed unsympathetic and downright hostile. I didn’t know where we were going to live, or how to continue to negotiate with people unwilling to listen.
Then, Pastor Ellen read “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, which famously starts out:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
A wave of relief washed over me. I was so caught up in trying to reason with my unreasonable landlords that I was disrespecting myself. Sometimes being nice and polite is not the same thing as being kind and truthful.
We are currently in the season of a hundred miles of desert, repenting and reflecting our way through Lent. But we are also always in the tradition of flipping tables, and speaking truth, even when some people accuse us of speaking in tongues.
Back to my earlier question, can we turn tables and walk into the woods at the same time? I’m not sure. I do know we can repent for our wrongdoings, reflect on our mortality, and stand up for what we believe in at the same time. Arguably, true repentance must include what we should not and will not apologize for. What is the temptation of the devil, if not the temptation to betray oneself for the ease of another? And what is baptism, if not the immersion of right action, always, even when it’s not the popular thing to do?
Questions to ponder:
What does flipping tables look like in modern times?
What does repentance look like in an increasingly digital world?
What does wilderness mean to you?
What does baptism mean to you?
For those seeking introspection, join us in Praying the Psalms every Friday at 7:30 pm throughout Lent. We also have an upcoming FaithLife discussion on the “perennially perplexing problem of evil” this Sunday at 5:30 pm; a movie discussion on “The Bucket List” Friday 3/19 at 7 pm; and Poetry Group Sunday 3/21 at 4 pm. And remember, we “spring forward” this Sunday, so set your clocks forward an hour for Sunday morning.
For those interested in turning tables, please consider signing this letter from the UCC Potomac Association Justice & Witness Action Network, calling for a comprehensive housing plan for low-income residents in DC.
In community and peace and wild, wild geese,