When it came to write the gospels and epistles, this universal perception could be used to speak of the nature of Jesus. Jesus presumably had some picture of the world around the Mediterranean. Travelers and traders always brought a picture of distant places. So when Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and decided to turn over the tables of the money changers, there was probably far more to his intention than making a religious statement about how the Jewish leaders were distorting the spiritual purpose of worship.
He knew the Passover was coming and he knew the temple staff only paid lip service to its significance. Of course this was part of his intention, but it has greater implication because of a broader context.
The Roman Empire was powerful and its success was greatly attributed to its ability to keep its foreign nationalities in control. The Jews were seen for their unique culture, and as long as they were paying their taxes and didn’t cause any strife, they could go about their religious observance as they wished. The Religious Jewish leaders knew this and knew it was important to keep tight control of their people.
When Jesus went about disrupting their temple, he would have known that this would have disturbed the Roman authorities. They did not want an unsettled part of their world. Not only did Jesus see that the Jewish religious practice had little to do with worship of the divine, he knew that the Roman notion of Peace maintained by fear, had little to do with true peace. It was oppressive. Jesus had a different notion of what it was to both worship the divine, and create a Kingdom of peace. This action was more than a person spiritual gesture. It was a political statement. He was confronting both the Jewish nation and Roman Empire with a grander kingdom.
Both the Jewish and Roman empires had limited place for the quality of individual human life. This is where Jesus Kingdom stood apart from theirs. His Kingdom was grounded in the quality of the people that formed his community. It depended upon people who were prepared to serve others even if it meant dieing to self for he knew this was the way to greater life, to resurrection life.
In the temple standing before the authorities he proclaimed. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”
POLITICS AND RELIGION
One of the very challenging questions that has faced humanity is the relationship of religion and politics. For most of history they have been integrally intertwined. Up until the modern era there was no thought as to how they could be separate.
In recent centuries the argument for separation has grown. The answer is probably very complex and beyond our discussion today. But what we do have in Jesus’ episode today, is an example of how he saw the two interacting.
Martin Luther King
Last week I mentioned that Jane and I saw the movie Selma, the story of Martin Luther King leading the American Black Community to confront the Government in order to force them to practice what they preached. That was to demand that they honour the rights of every citizen as so written in their constitution with the right to vote. For too long they had failed to honour their constitution and the racist attitude had hardened deeply in the white peoples psyche.
The black people faced a choice. Quietly go about their work in the hope the white people would eventually see the light. King’s belief was that this would not happen and that the gospel instructed that they serve their people until death by confronting the government and demanding equal rights. His life was a witness to his words, ‘serve to the point of death.’ It echoed the words of Jesus, ‘there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his fellow humans. This became Jesus way.
Last Saturday I attended a talk within our St. Kilda Ecumenical group presented by Jim Nickoloff from the US. He has been a long time student and work partner of Gustavo Gutierrez. One of the great 20th century Christians of South America. Arising out of Vatican Two in 1964, the Roman Catholic church determined that of the three main issues to be pursued through the remaining part of the century, one was to develop its ministry to the worlds Poor.
The countries of South America were experiencing great political upheaval and millions were suffering in poverty. The South American bishops took this seriously and under Gutierrez leadership they lead the church to stand with the poor, and they created a major movement in the Church called ‘liberation theology’. Its essence was to empower the people while challenging the authorities. When this approach seemed to create too much anger on the part of the government, many of Gutierrez’ people encouraged him to soften his approach.
His response was to say that we must serve the poor to death. His words echoed Martin Luther King and Jesus words when he threatened the authorities in the temple, “Destroy this temple and in three days he would raise it up”. He really was speaking of the destruction of his own body.
In our contemporary era, to many, our world leaders and governments have lost their way. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Too many governments lose their moral compass. The Kingdom of Jesus is called to speak up on behalf of those most in need. We are so inspired by those who do so, like Martin Luther King and Gustavo Gutierrtez, in the most challenging of circumstances, yes particularly to the point of death. How can we honour and emulate such people in the face of misguided governments and corrupt international systems.