Monday, October 19, 2009

Was Jesus' demonstration in the temple violent?

Jesus’ demonstration in the Temple must be understood, in the light of the prophetic passages cited [Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11], as a call for repentance and a sign that the promised eschatological restoration is at hand…. In any case, none of the evangelists presents this incident as a coup attempt to seize power over the religious or political establishment in Jerusalem. It is, rather, an act of symbolic ’street theater,’ in line with precedents well established in Israel’s prophetic tradition (e.g., Jer. 27:1-22). Thus, it is an act of violence in approximately the same way that antinuclear protesters commit an act of violence when they break into a navy base and pour blood on nuclear submarines. No one is hurt or killed in Jesus’ Temple demonstration. The incident is a forceful demonstration against a prevailing system in which violence and injustice prevail, a sign that Jesus intends to bring about a new order in according with Isaiah’s vision of eschatological peace. It is difficult to see how such a story can serve as a warrant for Christians to wage war and kill.
(Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Tetsament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), p.334-335.)

According to Hays, Jesus' action was violent in the sense of disfiguring idols, but not in the sense of mutilating idolaters. The way Christians' involvement in politics is never through the mutilation of another person even if that person is an enemy.

As an enemy, he/she is only relating to you secondarily. Primarily, we are all human beings who are endowed with the same divine duty to see and reflect in each other the face of God. We are asked to disfigure idols, but never the face of God.


Tremonti said...

This particular incident and the implications of how we are to reflect on it poses interesting as well as imaginative thoughts of application. I like what Hays says here but as some people might state the tendency is the application part is risky business and one to which people who fear engagement often retreat to.

reasonable said...

Hopefully some Christians won't take the Temple incident as their basis to destroy idols though not idolaters, in the sense of entering a Taoist Temple to break the statues of deities or to enter a Buddhist Temple to break a super large state of Gotama Buddha or Amitaba Buddha in the Meditation Hall :D