Lying on my back, eyes tracing each line and curve, slant and obstacle. Would door frames be a hurdle? Would the vaulted ceiling become a pit from which I couldn’t climb? What would it be like? To walk on the ceiling?
I practiced this exercise for hours as a kid. The couch seat seemed made for my back, head hanging down, rather than the conventional way of sitting. The question was: which would flip? The house or me?
It didn’t matter on those lazy afternoons; either way I was walking on the ceiling.
Jesus had his own way of walking on the ceiling, and it flipped the world as we know it.
After the pomp and drama of the triumphal entry, Jesus’ trip to the temple would’ve made first century reality TV gold. The one called the Messiah, whom the crowds praised with “Hosannas,” enters the temple and loses it.
Jesus, who used to be a temple prodigy (Luke 2:47), now drove out everyone making or spending money. He overturned their tables and reminded them that this house was supposed “to be a house of prayer for all nations.” (Matt. 21:13, Isa. 56:7).
I can see the headline now: “Supposed Messiah’s Fall From Glory.”
Most paint Jesus in this moment living out the divine wrath and anger at the money-changers. Jesus is upset that they turned the temple into a shopping mall. Movie scenes show Jesus with a bull whip, looking more like a crazed Indiana Jones than the Son of Man.
But notice what happens next:
“The blind and lame came to him at the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the amazing things that he did and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became angry” (Mt. 21:14-15).
The resident religious authorities get mad–about Jesus’ healing and the children’s praise; about “the amazing things that he did.”
The lame and blind didn’t come to Jesus because he cleared out the temple. Children didn’t praise him because the mall had been cleaned out. These “things” were just the next in a long line of amazing. Like Jesus’ casting a vision for a reality where the poor and marginalized are blessed and welcome at the table (Matt. 5).
These “amazing things” pointed to a new reality. They were a sign of the world changing events that had already begun, with more to be revealed. After the events of that week, everything would change, forever.
There is a commentary on Acts entitled World Upside Down,¹ which is how the disciples felt after the events of Holy Week.
The tables Jesus flipped over in the temple are just the first of many things to be turned upside down in his last week on earth.
He’ll overturn our notion of a God and master, when he kneels to wash his followers’ feet, (even Judas who will betray him). He’ll overturn the expectations of a violent overthrow of the empire when he submits to Pilate’s ruling. When all hope is lost and he’s laid in the tomb, he’ll overturn the reality of death.
And through it all, if you’re paying attention, he’ll invite you to live a different reality. One where death isn’t the last word, and the way of the empire isn’t as compelling as the way of the cross and resurrection.
There’s a lot of talk about “Post-Christendom” right now (60 years ago Sunday church attendance was culturally assumed, now it’s not much of a conversation). Some folks are scared of the possibility, the church has always been part of the power structure for them, so it’s frightening.
But, this new moment is just the next in a long line of God turning things upside down.
The question is: Will we live into Jesus’ reality or cling to what we once had?
Will we be angry with the “amazing things” happening outside the four walls of our church buildings?
Will we be upset that when we proclaim “He is not here, he is risen!” Here might refer to our sanctuary? That he’s gone out before us to overturn the world? Will we hope for a return to things as they once were?
Or, will we rejoice and walk on the ceiling with him?
¹C. Kavin Rowe, World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (Oxford Press, 2010).