Forming Faith Blog

Flipping Jesus (John 2:13-25)

We like a comfortable religion. We like things the way they have always been done before. Then Jesus comes along and says, “THAT’S who you think I am?” and begins flipping our nice comfortable religion on its head.

An upside-down house. It is as if Jesus is flipping over our lives.
Photo by Magda Ehlers on

My friend Charlotte ran a pre-school that operated weekdays out of a church. The kids sang the Jesus songs in addition to all the other music-time hits. “Jesus Loves Me” and “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” in the same hour. The kids were adorable.

In the playroom, in addition to the blocks and cars and crayons and playhouses…there was Jesus. He had light brown skin and a red cloak over his white robe. His long brown hair and beard were made of dark brown yarn. His painted-on eyes and smile made him seem happy and friendly. Kids sat with him on their laps. He sat in the playhouse highchair and ate pretend peas off a plastic spoon. He rode on trucks and faced down more than one comic book villain daily. 

Some parents complained. Well, it was more like one, ONE parent complained, not to Charlotte but to the other parents, and soon the presence of huggy-Jesus as a toy in the playroom was called into question…as were Charlotte’s skills as a pre-school leader. Huggy-Jesus was inappropriate.

At a parent’s meeting, Charlotte posed this question. Which Jesus do you want your kids to know? The breakable one who stands on a high shelf out of reach and looks down on them all day or the one who sits beside them on the cushions and lets himself be hugged tight and listens when they whisper things in his ears?

You could almost hear Jesus ask the question: Who do YOU say I am?

Flip the Table

To be fair, in this passage, the moneychangers were not technically IN the temple. They were in the area outside of the temple. The temple required an animal sacrifice, i.e., a small bird of some kind, a lamb, a goat, or an ox. If you did not have an animal for the sacrifice, you could buy one outside. If you did not have temple-sanctioned coins (coins without a graven image) to buy the temple-sanctioned sacrifice, you could exchange your money for the “right kind” of money and then buy the appropriate worship paraphernalia.

It was these merchants and moneychangers who were ripping people off. Most likely with the full knowledge of the government and the religious leaders.

Jesus flipped the tables. This is not the way he wanted his Father to be worshipped. Those followers who thought Jesus was there to overthrow the government must have been thinking, “Here we go!”

And Jesus said, “Is THAT who you think I am? Watch this.”

Is THAT Supposed to Be Me?

I grew up in a church where I sat and stared at two paintings in the sanctuary every Sunday. the classic painting of Jesus that looks like a high school senior picture and the one of Jesus standing at the door knocking. (I’ll be honest…I never paid much attention to the fact that there was no doorknob.) This was the “real” Jesus, and then in the ‘70s Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar came along and flipped the tables on who we thought Jesus was. I thought Jesus in clown make-up, and a Superman shirt was kind of cool, but some took offense. I got to watch the faith of the adults around me tested before my eyes.

Many were already comfortable with Max Von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told), and his piercing eyes and soft white skin was all the Jesus they needed.

Wait, what? What do you mean Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew? I saw Jesus on TV. He looked white like me.

Jesus’ Teachings Get Flipped

What happens when we get drawn out of our comfort zones? 

Maybe those parables were not just happy little bedtime stories. Perhaps some of them were calling US out on our behavior. That was OUR table that Jesus just flipped.

Wait, you mean I’m the older son in that story?

Wait, you mean I’m the lawyer who walked by the wounded man?

Wait, who is my neighbor?

Flipping Tables in the Narthex

We spend a lot of time invoking the presence of Christ in our worship practices but what would happen if he actually showed up?

  • Jesus flips the table where we were collecting canned goods for the shelter. Why don’t you GO to the shelter?
  • Jesus flips the table where we bought cookies from the youth bake sale. How about a table for fully funding the youth mission trip without charging the students?  Maybe volunteer to chaperone a mission trip?  That way, you can LEAVE THE BUILDING and get something done?
  • You might have a table to encourage voter registration; but what if you used a clipboard and went out into the community? Knock on a few doors, volunteer to drive folks to the polls?
  • You might welcome the LGBTQ community to your church, but are you willing to march in the parade with the church’s logo on your shirt?
  • Jesus flips the table at the wedding reception where the happy couple happens to be two men. Are you willing to stop patronizing your favorite bakery that won’t bake a cake for your friend’s most joyful occasion?
  • Are you ready to vote in the next election to change out the leadership in your community? State? Country?
Flipping the Tables in Our Own Personal Lives

Stand up, now. Stand up out of your comfortable pews. Grab the edge of that table. Are you willing to speak to your friends about social justice? Are you willing to show up to a community meeting to protest what they are putting in the drinking water, even if it’s not your community?

Are you willing to see Jesus as that dark-skinned guy with the whip who makes all the religious folks uncomfortable? Got a good hold now? 3…2…

Setting Up Again

May the Jesus who flips the tables on us help you turn it ride-side-up and set it so that everyone is welcome to come and eat.

Steve Case

Steve Case is a 30+ year youth ministry veteran. He’s written books reimagining the words of a 17th Century monk as well as three books of biblical Dad-jokes. His latest book is called F**k Death. It’s a hard-core guide to grieving for those who are sick of pity and condolences.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Cleansing Our Temple” from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th, NL) curriculum which can be used with many ages in many contexts!

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