by maggi dawn
Holy week is sometimes guilty of painting Jesus in pastels – a calm, sad-faced man gradually working his way towards an inevitable death. Somehow a version of Jesus has been worked into Christianity that doesn’t allow him – or his followers – to get angry, feel passionate, or care so much about one thing that some other things have to be dealt with in a radical and passionate way. It’s a version of Christianity that makes Jesus look like a victim as his death approaches. So thank goodness that today’s story of him turning over the tables in the Temple disrupts that calm, passive image. Outraged by injustice and commercialization masquerading as religion, he seems to have found that a peaceful demonstration didn’t meet the occasion – he just went and trashed the place.
“Holy”, in this story, certainly doesn’t mean wet and wimpish. There’s a great scene in Denys Arcand’s movie Jesus of Montreal where the leading character trashes a TV studio where actors are being exploited. The movie’s plot revolves around five actors who perform a Passion play, and over the course of the play’s run, their own lives become completely affected by the gospel stories they are playing out. The stark reality of what happens when these not-very-religious people engage with the gospel is contrasted by the way Arcand depicts the Church as institution, which in every way has insulated itself against the radical effects of the gospel. In this particular scene, two of the actors go to a TV studio where the female actor is auditioning from a part in an advert. There she finds herself on the receiving end of some of the common abuses that models are subjected to, and her friend (who plays Jesus in the Passion plays) becomes incensed and steps in to protect his friend, his reaction being a kind of calculated anger – calm on the surface, but fearless through a passionate reaction against the abuse. He trashes the studio, turning over the tables and tripods, smashing thousands of pounds worth of cameras and computers as he goes along. The story of Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple can be way too sanitized. Have you ever been told that he was only acting out anger, not really angry? Or that he was angry but completely in control? Or acting to make a point but calm and kind really? A Jesus with no passion or anger is not a real person – and to train people to suppress their own anger is a recipe either for depression or dangerous outbursts somewhere down the line. I love the Jésus de Montréal adaptation of that story precisely because it delivers a Jesus who is a real human being, with the kind of passion and commitment to the cause of righteousness that makes him (and his followers) fearless even against the powers that be. I can’t easily draw the conclusion that we should go out and commit acts of criminal violence in the name of Jesus. Recalling recent public protests, incidences of “kettling” and the death of Ian Tomlinson, the question as to what level of law-breaking is either advisable or acceptable, and the consequences to both protesters and bystanders are not inconsiderable. But I do think we should register the level of anger and social unacceptability that was going on in this story. There are moments when nothing less will do: as Edmund Burke once said, All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. The image of Jesus turning over the tables also colours how you read the events of the rest of Holy Week. Read the Temple story and it’s hard to see Jesus limply giving himself up as a victim; instead he is walking eyes wide open into the inevitable consequences of the radical protest he had embodied, and which the powers that be wanted to damp down at any cost. Earlier in his ministry he had “slipped through the crowd” once or twice to avoid coming to grief. I imagine he had weighed up the possible consequences of continuing to live out his radical message of justice, equality and freedom in a volatile environment. I imagine he had figured out that he had two choices: make less noise, or face the music.