Introducing Holy Week's Dangerous Jesus

Imagine my shock when I saw how my childhood's domesticated Palm Sunday steered me into a domesticated Holy Week with a domesticated Jesus and a domesticated faith. It was a coloring-book Palm Sunday, a Palm Sunday of the early '60s suburban, mainline church -- before the assassinations and Vietnam and the riots -- where children lay their cloaks before the smiling, Anglo-Saxon, meek-and-mild Jesus on his donkey. Such a Jesus would never challenge hucksters in a den of thieves and force the authorities to render their historic decisions. Why kill such a nice guy?

The real Jesus of the real Palm Sunday and the real Holy Week trashes such an insipid faith. He's dangerous.

Jesus had been mostly covert until this moment, even coy: Only three saw the Transfiguration and he hushed-up many healings. Few knew that the fine wine was once water and that the feast for thousands was a boy's lunch: Keep everyone in the dark until the time is ripe. Apparently, now was the time. The veil was dropped; the covert became overt; the undomesticated Jesus roamed free. He climbed off the donkey, cursed an innocent fig tree, then flipped tables and drove out the money-changers from the Court of the Gentiles. This was no mere "temple cleansing," as if he dabbed the walls with Pine Sol. He captured the temple. Those money-changers exchanged foreign coins at exorbitant rates for sanctuary currency so pilgrims could register and buy sacrificial animals. They milked the poor in the process and mocked Leviticus 5:7: "Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for their sin -- one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering."

James W. McCarty III described the temple as "the symbolic center of Jewish religious, political, legal, and economic power. It was, in the words of one of my former Bible professors, the White House, Supreme Court, and Federal Reserve combined." Jesus cut off the religious officials from their funds when he expelled the money changers and shut down Israel's cultural center, then defied them with His unrelenting presence during Holy Week. No more PAC donations.

That's a Jesus the powerful would crucify.

The obvious question: Who are today's money-changers? No fair painting targets on greedy Wall Street brokers and Congressional representatives. They're too easy. And no fair pointing at religious rivals (imagine the cacophony if we crammed the room with Eastern Orthodox and Catholic priests and Protestant evangelicals and theological progressives). Too easy again -- and we've missed the point. Jesus would push us before the mirror. Perhaps those leveling accusations betray themselves: the soul-searchers confess; the money-changers shout and evade responsibility. They're trolls.

I've mingled among most factions as an ecumenical evangelical with a mainline ordination and an admiration for the ancient churches -- and I'm now finding glimmers of hope where I formerly despaired. I once toyed with jettisoning the "evangelical" label. I now find confession. In fact, we're our most severe critics. Many now listen to David Gushee and Richard Cizik and Lisa Sharon Harper. Youths are signing on with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. We're escorting the money changers out despite their shrill protests.

Catholics are weary of their own money-changers. Their new, apparently humble pope shows promise, especially in that subtle but monumental moment when he embraced the Orthodox patriarch, Bartholomew I. Some dare to dream of closing an unnecessary 1,000-year rift between kindred peoples. Former impossibilities become possibilities when the money-changers flee.

And then there are the Protestant theological progressives. Many of them welcomed me in the depths of my evangelical desolation. I will be forever grateful, but I can't help but hear the subtle invective against "narrow-minded" evangelicals and Catholics (they're barely aware of the Orthodox). It's subtle, even slippery. It's draped in therapeutic and diplomatic lingo: "dialogue," "conversation," "awareness" and "open-mindedness." They rightly criticize evangelicals for slicing passages on justice from their Bibles; but, thanks to Gushee and Cizik and Harper -- and Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis and Marcia Pally and Joel Hunter and Gordon Fee and Glen Stassen -- their Bibles are being restored.

Meanwhile, who are the progressives to talk? They're notorious for hollowing the Scriptures. And is the Green Party really God's Party and are all Republicans Neanderthals? I thought neo-Orthodox theologians like Barth, Bonhoeffer and the Niebuhr brothers chased away their money-changers. What happened? Have they retreated to the coloring book Palm Sunday and to a docile Jesus who'd never mix with NASCAR fans?

All of us, including the mainline Protestant progressives, must face the mirror.

My childhood's tame, cultivated Jesus couldn't seize a temple or sweat blood in a garden or mount a cross -- and he'd shun the morning light even if he were raised from the dead. He'd summon his apostles while lingering in the cave so he could "process" his feelings. Maybe he'd even lead a seminar in the tomb, complete with a study guide and DVDs offered at a discount price. Such a Jesus may seem comforting, but He is not life-giving.

I'll take the dangerous Jesus of the original Holy Week. I'll tremble before Him as I ask him to chase out my money-changers.