Soul Food Advent Blog Series 2018: 'Room at the Table'
Guest blogger: Rosemary Hector
Recently, a complicated incident involving a dog, a bubbling saucepan, and the doorbell caused me to walk straight into the table I use as a desk. At speed. A corner. The table is made of solid oak.
The bruise remained for a long time on my thigh. It literally marked the height of the table.
Tables for meals would have been lower in the time of Jesus; people reclined at them to eat so they probably would have been the height of a modern coffee table.
During that time in the Middle East, other tables, nearer the height of a kitchen table and my bruise, were used for buying and selling. They denoted a certain amount of power and authority, for wood was scarce and expensive. In the open area outside the temple, the court, tables were set out; stalls offering assistance to those coming to the temple. Worshippers were obliged to use a special currency in the temple. Some of the stalls offered a bureau de change. Just like today, the men operating the exchange took their commission. Except there was no opportunity to shop elsewhere for a better deal; the temple court was the only place to change money. Worshippers also were instructed to give doves as sacrifices in the temple. They had to buy them with temple currency and in the temple court. It was potentially a double racket.
Jesus knew about the commission that went into the money changers’ pockets. He heard the lambs bleating, saw the doves’ wings flickering with agitation as they were sold. He saw what was going on. The law required a sacrifice; it had to be purchased. In the right place. With the right money. At a price. Those behind their tables ensured that the price was right. For them.
What did He do?
Coming into the temple court in Jerusalem he grasped one end of a table. He flipped it. Right over. Then he moved to another table and turned it over too. Perhaps another.
Imagine the scene. People staring in shock – doves breaking free from their handlers, momentarily distracted by the noise, coins rolling in the dust, children running away from the disturbance or towards it to see what was going on, the horrified traders scrabbling after their precious money. And who was doing all this? Why, the man who had entered the city with the crowds cheering him on. Disruptive he may well have been, but they’d better be careful if he had popular backing.
What’s more, Jesus ordered the money changers out. Out of the court.
The temple was not being used for proper worship and prayer.
‘You have made this place a den of robbers’ Jesus said.
Jesus values the table; a symbol of authority, respect and exchange as well as of hospitality.
But He will not have us pretending. In this case, the money changers and dove sellers were quietly fleecing the worshipers under the illusion of offering a service.
This Advent as we think of the table, let’s think of the other tables we may have in our lives. They may be glitzy with chrome cash registers and fancy baskets for gifts, wooden trestle tables at a craft fair, or the rubber belt moving the contents of a trolley through the scanner, a place where we have the computer and order on-line, but they are still essentially tables. Tables of exchange and purchasing. No, we are not buying doves for worship – Jesus fulfilled that law so that He has paid that price. But we buy and perhaps we sell. Are we fair? Are we complicit in our acceptance of goods and prices that screw the poor? We may be thoughtlessly contributing to a system that is not just.
I had a large bruise to remind me of my table. Every time I felt it, I tried to reflect on what table in my life Jesus would like to turn. I do not wish you a large bruise, but perhaps today think about what Jesus might like to challenge in your life.
Rosemary Hector worked in schools in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Birmingham and the West Country for the first part of her career, then worked in healthcare as a project and programme manager. She has contributed in these roles by writing and has had two pamphlets of poetry published; Knowing Grapes, by Happenstance, and Labyrinth by Handsel Press. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and has three grown up children.