Guerrilla Theater… Can You See It? by Christopher Mack
Guerrilla Theater… Can You See It?
Scripture: Matthew 21:12-22
The Prophet Ezekiel was one of the more unsettling and bizarre prophets whose ministry was preserved in scripture. He witnessed firsthand Judah under violent attack and was taken captive to the foreign land of Babylon. This was an extremely traumatic experience. As a prophet, his unusual experiences were accompanied with an unusual style.
Many of the prophetic messages delivered by Ezekiel were communicated through demonstrations or street performance. Ezekiel did such public prophetic acts like lying down bound and naked; digging holes in the walls of houses; shaving his head and then burning the hair; marking out the route for the invading Babylon army; and cooking a meal over excrement. These were not your grandmother’s sermon illustrations.
The actions of Jesus, as he approaches the Temple in Jerusalem, are loaded with a similar prophetic punch. His actions point to God’s Reign in profound, powerful, and perplexing ways. Jesus is drawing closer to his arrest, unjust conviction, brutal execution, and triumphant resurrection. Jesus was about to undergo the most traumatic experience of history. He would be betrayed, deserted, and condemned for the redemption of the world.
Ben Witherington III sees Jesus in this passage, “as a prophetic sage… performing an enacted parable or prophetic sign act.” Jesus is engaging in a form of guerrilla theater, a spontaneous performance out in public with the intent of expressing and igniting significant sociopolitical change. Jesus’ literal actions and the symbolism those actions point to are important to notice. Otherwise, like Jesus’ disciples, we may wonder at the miracle of how Jesus was able to make a fig tree wither so quickly, without catching the warning of the coming judgment on a fruitless people.
Jesus’ curses a fig tree and it withers on the spot. Jesus welcomes the blind and the lame and heals them in the Temple court. Jesus drives out of the money changers from the Temple. Three dramatic signs.
Many readers become caught up in the aggressive actions of Jesus driving out the moneychangers, the impressive healing of the blind and lamed, or of the way the fig tree withered at Jesus’ word. It is important to remember, Jesus, from the House of David, is exercising authority in God’s House. His dramatic actions speak judgement over the ways his beloved faith was increasingly missing the point.
Jesus’ guerrilla theater with the moneychangers points to the need for followers of God to focus on becoming a House of Prayer for all nations. Jesus’ healing subverts the biblical restrictions and prohibitions on the lame fully participating in Temple worship by making them whole and welcoming them. Jesus’ withering of the fig tree shows a fruitless spirituality mired in drilling down on minor issues and neglecting the greatest commandments of loving God and others will not endure for long. We are invited to see Jesus in action and to have eyes to see the deeper challenge his actions bring to the status quo. He is defying the religious leadership of his day and popular religious sentiment.
How might our eyesight be opened to see Jesus’ subversive actions in light of our 21st century faith?
Where are we channeling energy and resources into agendas that ultimately miss the point?
Who are the people we ostracize and how might Jesus be inviting us to seek their wholeness and welcome through God’s transformative reconciliation?
What is increasingly becoming more fruitless in our 21st century faith?