Jesus the Activist (Part 3 of 4)
“Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land…skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.” (Amos 8:4-6)
In Parts 1 and 2 we talked about the sociopolitical realities of first century Israel and what Jesus said and did about it. I’m proposing that Jesus’ saving work, first and foremost impacts our sinful souls but also confronts our sinful systems of injustice. He’s a Savior and a Revolutionary.
As a prophetic announcement to Rome and its wealthy Jewish cronies he aimed his Temple takeover at Israel’s center of power, calling them out to repent of their religious trespasses and social cruelties. Their profiteering enterprise had abused the public’s trust and exploited them in the name of God! Jesus couldn’t let it go on unchecked. It wasn’t the vendors he blamed most for turning his house into a thieves’ den, but the people at the top of the food chain, the culprits behind the curtain who profited most at the expense of those who had the least.
Jewish peasants from the north in Galilee who could scrape enough money together to make the long trek to Jerusalem for yearly pilgrimage “would have found themselves in the humiliating position of handing over their meager sacrifices to wealthy Temple priests,” says Reza Aslan, “some of whom may have owned the very lands these peasants and farmers labored on back home.”
By this one act of prophetic protest Jesus confronted those in power at the very seat of their power, discredited their authority, and gave a voice to the voiceless. The dramatic action by one of their very own kind, a peasant carpenter from Nazareth, communicated loud and clear that they too could challenge those who dominated them. Even the poorest of the poor had the right and the power to call the powers to account.
Vendors hawking souvenirs, sacrificial offerings at exorbitant prices, and exchange rate-gouging, all to make a buck at the expense of the poor sincere worshipper. What’s not to dislike about that?
As evidenced by the failed hit that Herod placed on the baby Jesus, from the very beginning his mere existence challenged those in power. This one Temple episode spoke truth to power and may well have been the final camel’s spine-shattering stalk of straw that led to his execution. He exposed the empire’s crooked economy and threatened the sovereignty of its emperor. Jesus would have to go and be made an example of in order to quell any other subversive movements that he might foment.
In order to retain their unchallenged dominance, the Jewish aristocracy collaborated with the Roman power structure in a plan to take him out. When they finally came for him they made an enormous show of force with a cohort of armed Roman soldiers and an angry crowd of Jews. They had no intention of letting this seditious menace slip through their fingers again.
The Temple was meant to function as “a house of prayer for all the nations,” not as a corrupt religious institution complicit with the plight of the poor and marginalized. In other words, instead of taking advantage of the poor, the Temple was a place they should be praying and providing for the poor from all nations.
With the thieves all on the run, the only ones left were the victims of their thievery. The Temple can now be that place where the poor can be prayed for and be healed (Matthew 21:14). Jesus healed the sick that very day in the very place from which the greedy fled! The place where greed reigned, where the rich guard their power and grow their net worth, was cleansed, at least for the moment, and reset as a place where the sick are healed and the poor are fed.
By discrediting the authority of those in power, Jesus empowered the marginalized to fight for justice. One might come to the conclusion that some form of this is every Christ follower’s sacred duty to emulate.
As Craig Greenfield says, “We need to amplify the voices of the oppressed so that others can hear their stories. We must use our liberty and privilege to benefit those who lack such freedom and power.”
Last but not least, in our final post on this topic we’ll glean from Jesus’ Temple cleansing some pointers on how we should then live. After all, he did say, “Follow me.”
Does anything I’m saying here strike a chord––or a raw nerve for that matter? Feel free to share your thoughts.