Whenever I hear the passage of Jesus overturning the tables - in a show of dismantling an unjust practice - I picture my friend, Zion. In this mental image, Zion is about 12 years old and he is splayed over another kid - like a lion who just pounced on a kill - pinning his arms to the ground. Before I explain this, let me introduce you to Zion.
Zion was a neighbor kid who lived 7 houses down the street. Though he was 3 years older, we were fast friends and spent most of our time together. My house was the TV house where movies, Nintendo, and Legos were the activities of choice. His house was the adventure house where crafting, music-making, and pretending were the activities.
Though we came from different houses, he was a big brother to me. He taught me about intimidating things like 5th grade and karate. He was always up for fun; however, it always had to be fair. He was one of the nicest kids in the world until he saw injustice, which brings me back to the story.
On this particular evening, a group of elementary kids from my church and the neighborhood were playing a game of football in a field next to our sanctuary. We were having a blast playing until one of the neighborhood kids decided that he wanted to start picking on me. After one play where the kid tried to rough me up, I turned around to see Zion - pinning his prey to the ground - "encouraging" him to apologize to me. After a series of verbal encouragements, the kid finally apologized. We continued the competition a bit longer until the game ended for the night. What amazed me about that interaction was how unemotional Zion was. He wasn't angry at all, merely defiantly determined to right a wrong.
This is what we witness in the scene where Jesus overturns the tables in the temple. Jesus is not angry, merely defiantly determined to seek justice where it is not. In this moment, injustice had the look of selling God's forgiveness and requiring a payment for divine relationship, and Jesus would have none of that. But this act of God working toward justice has continued throughout history. God continues this divine defiance of injustice. When we look truthfully at history, we see two things. Many times God uses the church to right the wrongs of injustice. However, God goes against the church at times when it is complicit in injustice. The aim, however, is not defeat or subjugation; the aim of God's defiant action toward justice is relationship. Like my friend Zion, God does not want to extinguish another person or community, but instead seeks the relationship to return to its foundation of compassionate love. God - like a lion who has pounced on a prey - pins down an individual or community and encourages reconciliation.
One more thing: the truth is that many of these experiences of injustice become the seeds of call for us as we join with God in seeking justice (or right relationship). Since that day at my church, through osmosis or contagion, I have sometimes found myself defiantly determined to seek justice where it is not present. Many times this call is kindled where kids are concerned, undoubtedly rooted in my relationship with Zion. Other times, it is kindled for causes with which I have particular experiences. God calls us all to work for justice and, many times, this call is rooted in our life story.
As we journey through this Lenten season, may we take some time to thank God for those advocates who defiantly sought justice when we needed it. May we also take some time to offer to God our hands and voices to defiantly seek justice for an individual or a system marred by injustice.