Leaders occasionally do wild and radical things to reshape their world. Gandhi went on a fast to death so that Muslims and Hindus would not pursue slaughter. Genghis Khan advanced the Mogul Empire through disaster, slaughter and invasion. Margaret Thatcher confronted Union power in the United Kingdom and changed the nation. Jesus, who was different to them all, died on a cross and was raised to an endless life. There is nothing more wild and radical than his self-sacrifice. Leaders’ hearts are revealed in what they do and model when the pressure is on, when the circumstances are demanding and everyone is anticipating a response. This is when they tend towards the wild and radical and this is where we discover what sort of leaders they are.
In John 2:12-22 we get a warning regarding how different and wild Jesus could appear, ‘In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
Who is this wild leader?
Jesus Christ of Nazareth is God’s speech. He is God’s Word, God’s articulation. The story of the Christian gospel is that Jesus Christ is God made flesh and this reality must be revealed in the entire world. Every move he made revealed God. He was revealed in every conversation he had, all the acts he performed, each look he conveyed, all the healings he did and the attitude he struck. Finally, the revelation of God comes through his cosmos-transforming death and resurrection. So, Jesus Christ is the light; he is God made flesh revealing the luminous, radiant and incandescent glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The passion of the Church is that he must be discovered by everyone in every place throughout all time.
What was this wild leader like?
In chapter two of John we have one story that looks like grace and another that looks like truth.
‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ says John (John 1:14). God has come to us in flesh so God’s skin is full of bone, blood, lungs, intestines, ligaments and sinew and yet all mixed up with two things; grace and truth. When He was present anywhere grace and truth were present everywhere and that is how you could recognise Him.
In chapter two of John we have one story that looks like grace and another that looks like truth. In the first story Jesus graced a wedding by changing water into wine and filling glasses with celebratory drink. But in the second story he went into the temple and filled it with challenging, table-turning, stress-inducing, truth-telling and reordering zeal.
How is it that Jesus behaves so differently?
The water-into-wine story looks like ‘grace’ and ejection of mammals from the temple looks like ‘truth’. But He was full of ‘grace and truth’ all the time. Both stories are full of grace and truth with different aspects presented in each one. In Jesus Christ grace and truth are always held together. It is vital to Christian leadership that we pay attention to this because when these virtues are present we can contemplate doing the wild and radical. The presence of grace and truth enable us to do the wild and radical well. Being wild and radical without grace and truth usually emerges as foolishness and/or disaster for all concerned
Why did Jesus drive sheep, cows and people out of the temple? The main problem was not graft or corruption although this might have been an issue.1 They needed to have animals to sacrifice and money did have to be exchanged so they could pay their taxes. The deeper problems were much more subtle than graft or corruption. The problem was how these leaders related to God. This brings this story much closer to home.
Jesus normally ate meals and drank wine with broken people, bringing his peace into those everyday situations, just as Christian leaders normally do. But these problems were exceptional and so deep that Jesus made a whip of cords; drove sheep and cattle out of the temple area, scattered the coins of the money- changers and turned their tables over, while shouting to the dove sellers, ‘Get these out of here!’ There had been what Michael Stocking calls, ‘the quiet gravitational pull of the status quo’ or what some others refer to as the normalisation of deviance.
What were their problems?
Leadership problem one: Loss of Direction
We have some older friends who went on a driving holiday to Italy. They had their maps, intelligence, experience and a Satnav. However, they leaned heavily on the Satnav. It was only when their wing mirrors were touching both walls along a very narrow street in a northern Italian village and they were shouting at each other that they consulted the map to changed direction.
I remember early in my marriage – well before the days of Satnav- heading off for dinner with my new wife. The only problem was I had confused Chorleywood with Chingford. It was very confusing for me driving the car and even more confusing for my wife who trusted me in this matter. We were two hours late for dinner in Chorleywood. If my memory serves me well much of the drive from Chingford to Chorleywood was in deep silence.
With the loss of direction came a loss of orientation. They were disorientated and disordered. Their leaders had lost their way.
Jesus cleared the temple because there was a loss of direction. What was intended as a place for communion was turned into commerce and what was a place of worship became a place of trade. The place for adoration of God was taken over by animals and money-making. Worshiping God, animal sacrifice and money-making were all important, but a blurring had taken place because their leaders were not paying attention. “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market” exclaims Jesus. With the loss of direction came a loss of orientation. They were disorientated and disordered. Their leaders had lost their way.
So, Jesus gave them direction, some order, and it was a temporary ejection from the temple. In rugby this would be a period in the ‘sin bin’. After a serious foul this is the place where you pay a penalty, cool off and think again so you can come back and participate in the game.
Leadership problem two: Loss of Memory
They had lost their way because they had lost their memory. This temple was meant to be a house for the nations and it appears the leaders had forgotten this. The outer court of the temple was also called the ‘Court of the Gentiles’. This was a place for the rest of the world. This was intended to be a ‘house of prayer for all nations’ (Mark 11:17).
Harvey Cox, who used to lecture at Harvard said, ‘In keeping with the vision of their prophets, the builders of the ancient temple in Jerusalem designed it to be a house of prayer for all peoples. There was an inner area where only Jews were admitted. Here stood the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest was permitted to enter, and that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. There was also a section explicitly named “the Court of the Gentiles.” Throughout the ancient world, many Gentiles worshipped with Jews without ever converting to Judaism. The Jews welcomed them as “God-fearers,” and their presence in the temple reflected the age-old Jewish hope that one day all nations and peoples, including “strangers and sojourners,” would join in praise of the One who created them all.’ Harvey Cox (Common Prayers p.1).
If you do not remember well you not only lose your memory but you also lose your vision.
The leaders had a huge gap in their memory. They had forgotten the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘for my house will be called a house for all nations’ (Isaiah 56:7) whom Jesus quotes in Mark 11:17. They had forgotten that they were to be a light to the nations. They had forgotten that they were to ‘bless’ the nations (Genesis 12). The Christian leader’s first task is to remember, not to innovate. Innovation only works well when grounded in the right memory. If you do not remember well you not only lose your memory but you also lose your vision. You begin pointless journeys like a spider trying to walk out of a bath.
Leadership problem three: Loss of Authority
Alistair Darling, the ex-chancellor of the exchequer said, “You know when you are no longer a government minister when you get in the back of a car and it doesn’t move”. The leaders of the temple were losing power but did not know how huge would be their loss.
Authority and power were shifting away from the leaders of the temple and heading towards Jesus. The leaders of the temple wanted to know by what ‘authority’ Jesus caused this animal and table-turning chaos. They asked, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John explains that the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. The Jewish leaders did not understand this; they thought he was talking about the physical temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus was explaining that his act of throwing the animals and tradesmen out of the temple was an indication of a much more profound change. The act was an indication that a dynamic shift in authority was taking place.
We know now that a new temple was being revealed through the body of Jesus and particularly through his death and resurrection. The shift was away from a physical temple towards the new dynamic of participation in the life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No longer would it be walking on the stone flags of the temple. From now on it would be walking in the life of the Holy Spirit in the power of the resurrection. Everything was changing for the temple leaders. They had to adjust or be left behind.
So in summary, why did Jesus make a whip of cords and turn tables over? Why did he communicate in such a radical and wild way? The leaders had lost touch with where they were going, what they were for and who was in charge. For Jesus this was outrageous neglect and demanded a response. This situation had to change and Jesus changed it in a most dramatic way.
If Jesus was to come into your church or organisation:
- What table would he want to turn over?
- What would he like to scatter?
- Where would he like to bring some temporary chaos?
On a personal level
- What does he want to turn over in our lives?
- What would he want to drive out?
- What would be his Word to us?
How should leaders respond to losing direction, memory and authority? How do we learn wild leadership?
Cultivate a rich relationship with God
Jesus was able to be wild and radical because he was full of truth and love. If we are going to lead with wild leadership it will be because the virtues of love and truth are being cultivated in us. Gengis Khan, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler could all be wild and radical but all it led to was destruction. The Jesus who scattered the money on the ground is also the Jesus who turned water into wine. He is wonderfully complex in his love and purpose. We need to understand and feel his love for us while living out his purpose for our lives if we are going to get his sort of wild leadership.
Open up your senses
Without opening up your life to the realities of the world you do not know where to deploy the gift of wild leadership you have.
Keep your eyes, ears, nose, fingers and tongue working. Watch, hear, smell, feel and taste so you don’t lose touch with what is happening around you. Don’t congeal into your final state but develop awareness with all the capacity God has provided for you. Read, converse, worship, pray and engage the world. Wild leaders learn to engage the world in its fullest sense. Without opening up your life to the realities of the world you do not know where to deploy the gift of wild leadership you have.
Become familiar with what has colonised your imagination
We have all been colonised by something. What had colonised your head and heart and what does it mean? Who or what is in there, shaping what you say, do and model? What are the repetitive images and phrases that shape you? The first act of table turning needs to be in our own heads and hearts. We need to be scattered and confused so we can be put back together in a healthy way with our imaginations colonised by the Holy Spirit.
Anticipate God’s wildness towards you
God is a God of surprises. You don’t know what this wonderful wild Jesus is going to do next. Keep your pants on tight! Remember that He is full of grace and truth and anticipate doing the audacious in his name. Jacki Pullinger was advised to get on a ship, travel a long way and pray so she would know when to get off. Her remarkable work amongst drug addicts in Hong Kong was the result. It may be that God’s surprise for you is more mundane but just as magnificent and wild in its own way.
With these things weaving through our hearts and head we can ask some other questions:
- What outrage does God want us to respond to?
- What tables does God want us to turn over?
- Where does God want us to enter into leadership that is radical and wild yet full of grace and truth?
As we head out on this journey it will be worth remembering the words of Henri Nouwen; ‘The need for a heroic self-image is the biggest barrier to service for Christ … when I have nothing to lose I have nothing to defend. Only then can I have everything to give’ Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.
Are we on a journey towards being more like Jesus or temple leaders? Do we have the freedom for wild leadership or shall we just play it safe?
1 DA Carson says, ‘This is true even in the parallel synoptic accounts (Matt 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18 and Luke 19:45-46) where in most translations Jesus accuses the merchants and money-changers of turning the temple into a “den of robbers”. The Greek expression suggests zealotry not thievery.’