Last Sunday, Christians around the globe celebrated Palm Sunday. The celebration draws on the account of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem where He was hailed as king. The celebration also marks the beginning of Passion Week – the last string of events leading up to Jesus’ death on Good Friday and subsequent resurrection on Sunday, which we celebrated yesterday (He is risen).
Palm Sunday’s proclamation of Jesus as king sets off a timer, counting down the minutes, the seconds before the inauguration of the kingdom of God which encompasses God’s unfolding plan of reconciling the world back to Himself. Up until this point, only Jews and converts to Judaism had a shot at being reunited with God. All customs and religious ceremonies clearly favored them over their Gentile brothers and sisters. But the center of religious power shifts as Jesus spends the next few days before His crucifixion preparing to die for the sins of the whole world.
But when Jesus enters the temple following His entry, He notices that things are not right. He surveys the place and noticing that it is too late in the day to do anything about what He sees, He decides to leave and come back the next day. When Jesus does come back the following day, He immediately picks up where He left off the night before. He starts to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves.
What is Jesus’ problem? Why is He so up in arms over a little commercial activity? The fact of the matter is this activity, this whole system of buying and selling in the temple in fact, thrived on and reinforced oppression. Here’s how:
- The money changers and sellers knew they could make a profit with those coming to the temple for Passover. People often traveled long distances to get to the temple which was located in Jerusalem. However, worship back in this day didn’t just encompass one bringing themselves as a living sacrifice before God as we do today. No, people actually had to bring an animal to sacrifice! But who wants to carry additional luggage on a trip that was already long and burdensome? The money changers and sellers capitalized on this, making animals available for people to purchase but they charged exorbitant prices. I could imagine that those who were well off probably weren’t too bothered by the inflated prices or could get around paying them because of their position and privilege. But what about the poor and those who were vulnerable in other ways? They either spent all that they had or if they didn’t have enough, were turned away from being able to participate in the community of God.
- The area where the money changers set up to do their business is what is called the outer court. This is the place where Gentiles and God-fearers were permitted to worship. Since these people were not Jews, they were not permitted to join the larger community in the most intimate parts of the temple. The commercial activity inhibited their worship because this is the only place that they could worship. They were either distracted with all of the commotion or pushed out of the temple altogether.
Now we can get a sense of why Jesus is so angry. His kingdom, the one that was just proclaimed the day before, is an inclusive kingdom. No one gets left out on account of their race, culture, or socioeconomic status. Everyone who believes and trusts in Him gets to participate. Jesus does not want to have anything to do with a system that thrives on excluding anyone. And so, He drives the corruption out, exclaiming “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations!”
Do we realize that it is this act, this declaration of inclusion and rejection of oppression that ultimately gets Jesus killed? Although Jesus was already a pretty threatening presence, this act was the tipping point for the religious leaders in his day. They could not understand how the world could thrive without excluding, without oppressing somebody somewhere. How else would they make money if there were not clear winners and losers? How else would they be distinguished as clearly superior above people of other religions, cultures, and genders if they could not find a way to clearly separate themselves from those people?
And so they start conspiring to kill Jesus. This man that they just hailed as king they now want to kill. They cannot stand the message of acceptance that Jesus brings. They rather see Him dead than invite others in.
I strongly believe that when we reinforce oppression in the way that the religious leaders demanded it, that we become accomplices in His death as well. Whenever we exclude people from the house of God, or limit their ability to be thoroughly integrated into the community of faith, we take sides with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. But we also take sides with them whenever we exclude people from:
- Employment opportunities, limiting their ability to provide for their families
- Safe, quality housing in places where they want to live at prices that they can pay
- Quality education
- Access to healthy, affordable food
- Thriving communities with access to healthcare, recreation, arts, and culture
Anytime we exclude, anytime we make insurmountable obstacles for people to cross, we are saying that we reject Jesus’ message. We are saying we reject inclusion, we reject fairness, we reject the totality of what is kingdom is about. God’s kingdom and this world does not just belong to a select few of individuals. It belongs to all and therefore should be extended to all, because Jesus died for all not wanting any to perish but all to have everlasting life.
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