This is continuing a line of thought from two previous post on systems. Read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here if you haven’t yet! These are more academic and less casual than my usual posts, and they are more for my own personal reflection as I sort through a lot of these things than they are for you (no offense). I hope you enjoy anyway though! 😉 -e
Today I was in the gym (and now I’m in a coffee shop…and now you literally know the life of Ethan), and the cardio theater was playing a movie called Walking Tall. I had never seen it before, but I had a vague idea that it was a revenge/vigilante story starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson which would pump me up to exercise.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
In summary, the film centers around Johnson’s character, who is returning to his small rural hometown after years as a special forces officer. He comes home to find that the town where he grew up has been overrun by corrupt and greedy businessmen who have opened a casino which essentially runs the town. The casino cheats its customers and its employees sell drugs to the local high schoolers, including Johnson’s nephew who is hospitalized after a crystal meth overdose.
He goes to the police, only to find that the sheriff is just as corrupt and spineless as the rest of the town, which is when Johnson decides to take matters into his own gigantic hands. He trashes the casino, breaks some bones of the employees, and doles out justice to the drug dealers. Without giving the ending away, it is a macho film which revels in the simplicity of vigilante-driven, action-packed justice.
We love to see this satisfying collapse of a corrupt system as we join in the righteous anger of her executor, don’t we? Because deep down, humans love justice. We are wired to hate injustice and oppression, so when we see the fury of a huge islander unleashed on the crooks, we feel satisfied.
This plot is not dissimilar to many we’ve seen before: Braveheart’s William Wallace finds his beloved homeland overrun by the English tyrants who are oppressing his people, and we love to see him go primal with that antler. The Resistance in Star Wars is standing against the enormous Empire whose wicked hands control the galaxy.
Of course, when we look at the world in which we live, it becomes evident that things are rarely this black and white. Systems pull strings and make people look bad from one angle but good from another.
“Everyone is just trying to get by.”
The top-down overhauls of systems, as I’ve said before, only results in creating a new elite. I feel the anger rising in my chest the more I think about the absolute hopelessness in every constructed human system. Despite their superficial ‘mission statements,’ these systems always end up being rigged against the poor and weak and in favor of the wealthy and powerful.
And that’s why Jesus went nuts in anger against an unjust system.
This is an oft-brought up, yet frequently misunderstood story found in all four gospels. John 2:14 tells us that He found people selling animals and changing money “in the temple courts.”
Now, the location here is possibly the most important piece of understanding why this caused such an intense reaction from the Lord. The temple courts sat outside the heart of the temple, where the Israelites would come and make sacrifices to the LORD. The courts were reserved for a very specific group of people, and you may be able to guess it: The poor, the needy, and the Gentiles (non-Israelites). The outsiders.
This happened during Passover, which is when thousands of people would have made the pilgrimage to the temple just to worship God and make sacrifices. The holiday was a marvelous time for people to come together and worship God in community, but over time, the religious leaders (much like the modern day Christmas industry) only saw dollar signs. They saw an opportunity to profit by selling people animals to sacrifice and changing their money into currency which would be acceptable in Jerusalem.
Their greed consumed so much space that it eliminated the opportunity for Gentiles and the poor to come and worship. Much like the casino in Walking Tall, the people with the money and power were the ones calling the shots and pushing away those labeled “outsider.”
And this is why God went nuts.
This is why Jesus turned into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and destroyed their marketplace. Because not only was God’s house, which was supposed to be a welcoming place for all people to come and connect with God, turning people away, but the religious people were profiting and becoming richer and more powerful because of it.
John notes in verse 17, “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me,'” which is a line taken from Psalm 69. And I think that we too are called to this sort of zeal. This righteous anger.
I think each of us is called to lose our minds in the face of injustice, when the rich are oppressing the poor and the religious are profiting off of the outsider. After all, around my wrist is the classic W.W.J.D. bracelet, and in this case, the answer to “What Would Jesus Do?” is, turn over some tables and violently drive some people out of the house of God.
Matthew 11:12, “The kingdom of heaven is taken by violence and the violent seize it.”
But what does this look like in tangible terms? In talking about systems, the story of Walking Tall is evidently far-fetched, as no man can singlehandedly overturn an entire city’s corrupt system. Even Jesus’ episode in the temple didn’t last long, as there is another recorded event of Him clearing the temple not 3 years later, shortly before He is crucified. The rich and powerful rushed back in and continued what they had been doing before.
Growing up in the church, I’ve heard the expression dozens of times in messages on anger, especially in relation to this story: Anger isn’t bad, as long as you’re angry at the right things.
For decades I wondered what the “right things” were, but looking again at this story in its context and through the lens of systems, it starts to make more sense. I begin to understand why we love William Wallace, Luke Skywalker, and obviously, Jesus Christ, because they stand up to corrupt systems of power and oppression and win. I used to feel guilty loving those films because I had an anemic view of Jesus as a weak and soft pacifist. In reality, Jesus stood up to the religious and political systems of the time and even announced that a new one was on its way: The kingdom of God.
The system where He will rule with justice, mercy and equality.
The system where we will no longer have need for a strong hero to rise up and overthrow her wicked leaders, because there will be no injustice or profiting off of outsiders.
So once again I land at the same conclusion I have before: Maranatha, come swiftly, Lord Jesus.
And in the mean time, may we be people who absolutely lose our cool at the sight of injustice and the oppression of the weak.
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Because Americans are unusually suspicious of government, the myths of the Outlaw and the Outsider are especially powerful here.
Hollywood gets that. For years, it has cranked out films about Outsiders who operate beyond the law and cleanse society through renegade (and usually violent) action.
It’s a very comforting formula in a society that puts such an extraordinary value on rugged individualism and personal freedom.
Vigilantism undermines public order and the rule of law. I’m 100% against it.
Lynch mobs, the KKK and Senator McCarthy also thought they were cleansing society.
Get angry at injustice, sure. But anger doesn’t always point the path to justice. Quite the opposite, in fact. Choose carefully your means of responding. Your cure might be worse than the original disease.
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