Turning the Tables: How Do Christians Deal With Conflict?
That children’s sermon got me thinking about house cleaning.
I remember one time when my poor mother had just about had it.
I was 16 years old, and we had an exchange student living with us.
Karl was eating all the time, and I was always needing to be transported to some rehearsal.
My parents were both working outside the home.
But despite the fact that there were 4 able bodied people around the house,
it was still somehow my mom’s responsibility to see to the house chores and cooking.
One evening after supper my mom blew her stack.
You all treat me like I’m the maid around here, she fumed.
Do you know I have made over 25,000 meals for you over the years?
I work full time and manage the home and make sure you all need what you have,
And I’ve had it!
Things had better start changing around here!
And she stormed off.
My dad, Karl the exchange student and I sat around the kitchen table, dumbfounded.
We had not seen it coming.
It had just been an average evening at the Reuning household as far as we were concerned.
After a few minutes of silence, my dad said, “I think she’s mad.”
And he went off to find her.
It makes me think of the merchants at the temple in our gospel lesson.
They were just doing business as usual, and in comes Jesus, turning over tables, dumping out money
And scaring the animals.
What is up with him? They must have wondered.
Even his disciples wondered.
Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest that Jesus was infuriated by the temple merchants
taking advantage of the poor people coming to the temple.
They not only had to buy animals for the required sacrifice,
they had to buy it at the temple at a marked up price, with temple coin, which also cost money to change.
The temple sacrifice system fleeced some people and lined the pockets of others.
But here in John’s gospel, his disciples remember the scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
John attributes Jesus’ actions to his passionate belief that God was not to be found in sacrifice or in a temple
But in the free gift of Jesus himself.
The other thing that is different about John’s telling of this story is when it happens.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all situate this story of the cleansing of the temple right before Jesus’ death.
It’s one of the things that pushes the religious leadership to get rid of Jesus.
But in John the cleansing of the temple happens early, in the second chapter,
right after turning water to wine.
It sets up the dynamic that continues throughout the gospel: Jesus is in conflict
With the political leaders of Jews
The religious leaders
Even the good religious people of the day, with Pharisees.
Jesus provokes people with his claims of being God’s son and publicly challenges their hard hearted behavior. Everywhere we turn, Jesus is in conflict with someone.
What do we do with this Jesus?
We usually think of him as being friendly, kind, gentle.
But here he is, turning the tables and driving people out with a homemade whip.
How do we square this behavior with the Jesus who John says shows us the heart of God?
It’s a good question.
The first thing to notice is the source of Jesus’ actions.
Jesus is not motivated by some unresolved grudge or a violent whim
His actions come out of zeal, or passion.
Jesus was passionately dedicated to God’s work in the world
He was the sign that God was breaking into people’s lives in miraculous ways
Enlivening and freeing people, healing and setting people free, even raising the dead.
But the truth is passionate belief causes conflict.
People who hold deeply held beliefs are more likely to rub others the wrong way
Their beliefs shape their actions, making deciding on a mutual course of action harder.
It is easier to work with someone who really doesn’t care, who will go along with anything.
But that isn’t who Jesus is.
Taking Jesus’ passion seriously makes me reconstruct my view of conflict.
I usually think it is good to be agreeable, to compromise.
And often times it is—in most situations there is more than one way to do things
And there is always more than one perspective worth considering.
But sometimes as Christians we confuse being faithful to Jesus with avoiding conflict.
We think as long as we aren’t openly fighting that all is OK.
But the truth is the lack of disagreement is squelching some perspectives
Creative solutions are left unexplored because competing values and divergent experiences are not on the table.
Jesus, on the other hand, brings out the opposition in others.
He confronts them and causes them to reevaluate where they stand.
In the example of Jesus, conflict becomes like the whetstone against which the knife is sharpened.
With Jesus around, there isn’t much room for dullness or milk toast living
Everyone gets a sharper blade because of Jesus.
Jesus causes them to clarify their thinking and make choices.
This week I was at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center’s meditation skills training workshop.
We did 32 hours of learning and roleplays,
Practicing our skills at transforming conflict into workable solutions and forgiveness.
One of the first things we did was review our concept of conflict.
We associate it with such negative things: unresolved issues, painful words, vindictive action.
Unfortunately, we often experience conflict as tearing down.
But conflict it can also build up.
The first role play we did was a based on a true story of two roommates.
One continually borrowed items and returned them late.
The other had an arrogant streak that came out in their interactions.
The pair came to trained student peer mediators when the first student borrowed a book without asking
And the other came to reclaim it and accidentally knocked a piece of pottery off the shelf.
Two men from our group played the parts of the college students, and it was amazing how well they did it.
It was so easy to put yourself in the shoes of these aggrieved students,
each with their own set of insecurities and grievances.
But as the peer mediators worked with them,
they began to see beyond their own perspective and hear each other.
The student with the arrogant streak didn’t realize he made his neighbor feel inferior.
He never meant to do that, and learned how to say things in a different way.
He also got to apologize for breaking the pottery, which was an accident.
The student who borrowed stuff and didn’t bring it back on time came from a big family
where people had a much more fluid definition of borrowing and lending.
In the end, they were both able to hear one another, say I’m sorry,
and make a plan for living together in the future.
Throughout the week, we heard stories of bad behavior, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings.
But we also saw ways that many people were able to come to reconciliation and healing.
Moreover, we saw that handling conflict in a positive manner unleashed the creativity of the individuals
Solutions were found that no one had thought of
And the community was stronger at the end of the conflict than it was at the beginning.
People grew as human beings and as Christians, and the community was built up.
Jesus says in our lesson: Tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.
That’s so often what conflict feels like—tearing down.
And in many cases, it is.
But what I am learning is that conflict is natural.
It comes from people acting directly from the core of who they are and their experiences.
The other thing to know is that conflict doesn’t have to end in destruction.
When Jesus said, Tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days,
He wasn’t referring to the temple building
He was referring to his own body, predicting his eventual death and resurrection.
That’s what conflict can be, too—a death to one way thinking, to hearing many perspectives
A death to acquiescing and letting others be in charge, to speaking your own truth in love.
A death to giving up when there have been hurts, and instead persevering and reaching out.
Jesus’ example points us to the truth that even in the death God is at work
And so our broken relationships can have new life in reconciliation as well.
It’s been 30 years since my mom gave her 25,000 meals speech,
And I find myself feeling a little like a maid and chauffer, just like my mom did.
I could look at it as something I need swallow
And sometimes that may be the best option.
But can I also find ways to be honest about my experience, and invite my family to do the same?
Can you do that in the places where you find yourself at odds with others: home, work, church, school?
Jesus showed us that conflict doesn’t have to tear down permanently.
God can build us up again, stronger than before.
Let Jesus lead you into that kind of resurrection.
Mops, brooms, sponges, a dust cloth... what do we use these things for? We use them when we clean house, don't we? Do you ever help your mom with the cleaning around your house? I don't know about your mom, but there were many times when my mom thought our house needed cleaning when it looked just fine to me. Well, how do you know when it's time to clean house? Well here are some signs that will definitely let you to know that it is time to clean house.
It is time to clean house when…
Well, I think you get the idea! I know that your house never gets THAT dirty, but the truth of the matter is, we all need to do a little house cleaning at times.
Today we are going to learn about a time when Jesus did some house cleaning. It was time for the annual Passover celebration, so Jesus traveled to Jerusalem. When he arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple. He couldn't believe what he saw. Right there in the temple area he saw people who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves to be used as sacrifices in the temple. There were even tables set up where men were changing money so that people could pay their temple taxes. It looked more like a flea market than a house of worship.
Jesus did not like what he saw. He was so angry that picked up a piece of rope, made a whip, and drove the the cattle, sheep, and those who were selling them out of the temple. Next, he went to the money changers and turned their tables over, scattering coins all over the temple floor. To the ones who were selling the doves he said, "Get out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market." I would say that Jesus did some serious house cleaning in the temple that day!
As we think about Jesus cleansing the temple, we should also be reminded that there is some other cleaning that needs to be done. The Bible tells us that we are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in us. (1 Cor. 3:16) The season of Lent is a good time for us to look inside ourselves and see if there is anything in us that needs to be cleansed. Are there some areas of your life where you need to do some house cleaning? I know there are in mine!
Father, help us to remember that we are your temple and that your Spirit lives in us. Help us to keep our lives clean and useful for service to you. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.