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Archive for July, 2015

Jesus did not normally leads marches, protests, or direct “activism,” his ministry usually focused the teachings of the Kingdom of God and healing the sick and possessed. However, there is the one occasion when Jesus clears the temple that he went from teaching to direct, even destructive, action.

It is an erroneous conclusion from the story of Jesus clearing the temple that violence is justified. It does not cancel out Jesus’ teaching on non-violence, loving enemies, and turning the other cheek. However, it does show that sometimes direct activism, civil disobedience, and protest are necessary. Sometimes it is not just enough to write or talk about greed, injustice, or intolerance. Sometimes it is necessary to actually stand against the forces of injustice in a non-violent but bold manner. We should all be looking for these opportunities where we are living.

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The story of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple has been told so often, perhaps we forget how dramatic it really was. Jesus had been welcomed into Jerusalem with the people hoping he would save them from the Romans, and instead he creates havoc outside their house of worship. You can almost see the religious leaders fuming, “Jesus you have the wrong target. We are not the enemy. Why are you not directing your anger at the real enemy, the Romans?”

What Jesus did in the temple was beyond offensive to his Jewish audience. How dare he get angry about how their religion was functioning when there was a Roman Empire he should be focused on? They wanted him to focus his angry on the other, but Jesus wanted to literally clean house in the temple. You can hear the people saying that he is not really a Jew. He doesn’t really love his country. He knew that his actions would anger important people in power in Israel, but he did it anyways. Greed in the name of God could not be ignored, even if failing to ignore it meant dying.

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When Jesus goes into the temple in Matthew 21, he finds the moneychangers taking advantage of the people coming in to worship. It is the one time that it is recorded of Jesus getting angry to the point of actual destruction. It was not when he saw the sins of the Romans, prostitutes, or drunks. It was when he saw the poor being taken advantage of in a house of worship. This is something that the western church needs to look at it with special focus.

Jesus did not drive out the moneychangers merely because it was inappropriate to do their business in the temple. What drove Jesus to anger was the poor being taken advantage of in a house of worship. Of all the sin, evil, and pain that Jesus saw in his time on earth, this is what drove him to take out the whip. He had seen the horrific oppression of the Romans, but the oppression in a house of worship drove him to anger. In an American church where fancy buildings, excessive salaries, and extravagance is not shameful, but celebrated, perhaps we have lost our way. If Jesus were here today, maybe his greatest anger wouldn’t be at the immoral outside of the church, it would be at a church that worships excess in a world of poverty.

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In Matthew 21, Jesus comes riding in on a donkey during the beginning of Passover. The week before he was to be crucified. There have been different ideas of what coming in on the donkey meant. Some have rightfully pointed out that this was a sign of humility. While this is true, as William Barclay points out, the donkey was not necessarily a “despised” animal. Even kings would ride on donkeys. However, they would do so when they were coming in peace. When they were coming for war, they would ride in on a horse.

When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey instead of a horse, he was making a statement to the Roman and Hebrew worlds that he was coming in peace. Many of the people overlooked the statement, just as many do today.
Jesus was declaring that his Kingdom would not be built by military might and warfare. He also wanted his followers to know that violence and warfare were incompatible with his kingdom. Perhaps this is why the early Christians in the Roman Empire refused to serve in the military. They were following the Prince of Peace seated on a donkey, not a Lord of War seated on a horse.

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In Matthew 21, the story is told of Jesus coming into the city and the people shouting Hosanna. It is often seen as a joyous occasion, and many churches go as far as celebrating the event. However, there is actually a little darker side to the story. When the people were crying Hosanna it was not to celebrate the Kingdom of God or the spiritual change Jesus wanted to bring, it was a cry which meant “save us now.” They were seeing Jesus as a type of revolutionary figure who would save them from Roman oppression. It is very telling because though the crowds welcomed him, another crowd just one week later would be calling for his execution. It is obviously impossible to know if it was any of the same people, but it is important to realize that Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of the crowd, and this probably made many of them angry.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds shouted Hosanna, “save us now”, but Jesus was not interested in being their violent revolutionary in the face of Roman rule. He wanted to show them the way of sacrifice, peace, and turning the other cheek. He was not interested in being their political king. He wanted to reveal a new kingdom where the last would be first. A kingdom where the way to completion is not through violence or warfare but of laying down one’s life. Jesus did not fulfill their expectations of Hosanna. He was not interested being a Jewish nationalist. He was looking forward to a kingdom where all humanity would be invited in, even the despised Romans.

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