Monday, March 25, 2013

Day 2: Jesus drives out the money changers and preaches in the Temple (Gay Passion of Christ series)

3. Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” -- John 2:13 (RSV)

An angry modern-day Christ figure disrupts business in “Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers.” Jesus, hair flying, overturns tables stacked with money. Coins scatter, bills flutter away, and the men in suits run. A crowd in the background yanks off the barred gate that separates them from the wealthy money managers. One security guard struggles to keep out the mob. Another officer reaches to grab Jesus by the shoulder. Jesus looks like a freedom fighter standing up against greed and income inequality. The setting appears to be a present-day church office or financial institution with statues, classic columns, and a hanging lamp.

All four gospels describe what is commonly called “the cleansing of the temple.” By some accounts Jesus kicked the money changers out of the Temple as soon as he arrived in Jerusalem. When he saw them taking advantage of people’s faith in God, he exploded. It was the only time that Jesus used physical violence in the Bible. Jesus poured out the coins of the money changers and turned over their tables. Then he made a whip of cords and used it to chase them out, along with the sacrificial animals that they were selling. Nothing made Jesus angrier than religious hypocrisy. He yelled, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” It was one of many occasions when he blasted religious leaders for exploiting the poor. He talked more about money than anything else except God.

Blanchard is right to paint this scene in a place that could be a bank or a church because the Temple in Jerusalem was not only a religious institution, but also functioned like a national bank. The Temple held private deposits of wealth in its treasury, made loans, and collected debts as well as selling animals for sacrifice. The money changers of first-century Jerusalem exchanged foreign currency for the temple coins that were required for paying the annual temple tax and making offerings. They made big profits by using unfair exchange rates and adding service charges. Priests also got a cut.

Jesus’ angry outburst has fascinated artists since the Middle Ages. Their paintings of the episode go by various names, such as the purification of the temple, the expulsion of the money changers, or driving the merchants from the temple. Renaissance master El Greco painted at least five versions. But overall the angry Jesus has been downplayed in favor of the other events from the life of Christ. Modern artists mostly ignore the subject. Blanchard is perhaps the only artist to paint a “gay vision” of the day that Jesus fought back against the merchants who turned the holy temple into a marketplace.

Perhaps other LGBT versions of Jesus expelling the money-changers come not from art, but from action. The protest looks like a scene from Occupy Wall Street, although it was painted a decade before that movement began. Blanchard’s Jesus could be angry about the growing gap between the wealthy one percent and the other 99 percent, or about fundraising tactics that demonize LGBT people, or about countless other forms of economic injustice.

“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” -- Matthew 21:13 (RSV)

Jesus acted up when he saw something wrong. Nothing made him angrier than religious hypocrisy blocking the way to God. He got mad when religious leaders made people pay to attend worship. He said, you can’t buy your way to heaven! Everyone gets God for free. Don’t trick a poor widow into giving her last penny! The sacrifice that pleases God is to do justice and love people. Oh sure, you can raise tons of money by claiming that some other group is an unholy threat: lepers, immigrants, queer. But remember, whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me! Stop demonizing people! You call gays an abomination, but your fundraising tactics are the real abomination! Hypocrites! You’re like fancy tombs, pretty on the outside, but full of death on the inside. Then he turned over the tables where the men in suits made their unholy profits. Coins went flying as he drove them out.

Jesus, thank you for your anger. Give me the courage to act up against injustice.


4. Jesus Preaches in the Temple (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“The chief priests…feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.” -- Mark 11:18 (RSV)

A popular teacher distracts church-goers from a worship service in “Jesus Preaches in the Temple.” Jesus, looking like an urban hipster, welcomes the people who crowd around and touch him. The title states that Jesus is preaching, but he stands quietly among them, mouth closed, communicating compassion with his presence. Blue tones conjure a peaceful mood, but there is tension between the upstart preacher and the religious establishment, between the individual and the institution.

This painting raises the question: What would happen if Jesus walked into a church of today? The general consensus is that he would disrupt the established order. Not many Christians would stay meekly in their pews and settle for stale sermons and wafers if they had the chance to see, hear, and touch the living Christ. Those who gain power by speaking for Jesus might prefer to keep him away.

The individualized faces and gestures of Jesus’ listeners invite speculation about their lives. Two gay couples wrap Jesus in a loving embrace: a white couple on the left and a black couple on the right. Jesus puts his arm around one of the blacks while shaking hands with -- and perhaps healing -- the bald man in the wheelchair. Even the cool guys are drawn to Jesus: one with a spiky mohawk and another smoking a cigarette. Others sit in front, just wanting to be near Jesus: A mother and daughter on the left, and on the right a downcast figure in red high heels. Her tall, awkward body suggests a drag queen or a transwoman.

Large pillars and arches hint that they are in the aisle of a modern cathedral. Far in the distance on the left, a row of priests carries candles or shiny processional crosses, as happens in a contemporary cathedral during worship. But many congregants are more interested in Jesus. A man peeks around the pillar on the back right to see who is causing all the excitement.

Not everyone is pleased to see the charismatic newcomer. Two bald men eavesdrop, arms crossed. Their suits suggest that they are businessmen, but they could easily be church bureaucrats. They look like the money changers who were attacked by Jesus in the previous painting. This pair might even be another gay couple, but a conservative and perhaps closeted duo with a stake in the status quo. Whatever their identity, they are the modern counterparts of the elders, scribes, lawyers, priests and Pharisees in the Bible who observed Jesus in the temple, looking for a way to destroy him.

It’s possible to guess what Jesus might be saying in this painting by reading the lengthy Biblical accounts of his preaching. The two-fold message that the Biblical Jesus taught was love and justice. Blanchard’s “Jesus Preaches in the Temple” balances the previous image of Jesus driving out the moneychangers. He stood for justice against the money changers before, and here he stands for love. The Bible records much of what Jesus taught, but he himself said the most important lesson was this: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.

One subject that Jesus never discussed directly was homosexuality. He certainly didn’t condemn it in the Bible. He may even have implied that LGBT people are born that way when he said, “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth.” (Matthew 19:12) Some progressive Bible scholars believe that Jesus used an ancient term for LGBT people when he talked about eunuchs. The term translated as “eunuch” probably included not just castrated men, but also a variety of sexual minorities that today would be called LGBT or queer.

Images of Jesus or teaching in the temple are relatively rare in art history. Even Renaissance master Albrecht Durer, whose Small Passion contains no less than 38 engravings, did not include such a scene. The drama of Jesus’ crucifixion tends to overshadow the content of his teachings, but Blanchard reminds viewers that Christ illumined the world not just by the way he died, but by how he lived and what he taught.

“All the people hung upon his words.” -- Luke 19:47-48 (RSV)

All kinds of people crowded around: male and female, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, people from every race and nation -- and the queer ones: women who acted like men, men who acted like women, those who loved someone of the same sex, those with bodies somewhere between male and female. People lumped all of the queers together and called them “eunuchs.” Jesus said some of us were born eunuchs, some were made into eunuchs by others, and some made themselves into eunuchs. He never spoke a word against homosexuality. He just taught about love: Love God, love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies. Religious leaders felt threatened by his absolute love, but his words and his touched and healed people. The religious leaders listened too -- hoping he would say something that they could use to silence him.

Christ, teach me, touch me!

More resources:
Homosexual Eunuchs - Did You Know That Some Eunuchs Were Gay Men Or Lesbians? (

This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry.  For the whole series, click here.

This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry.  For the whole series, click here.

The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” will be published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press. Click here to get updates on the gay Passion book.

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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