[Part two of my Easter blog series. For part one click here].
The Christian Easter story has its roots in Jewish Passover – the annual commemoration of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to escape a repressive, enslaving government.
That’s the setting of the Easter story. Jerusalem is teaming with an influx of folks coming to the city for the celebration. For the religious leaders, this meant an influx of monetary support for the temple and its leaders. Unfortunately, frequently for the powerful, enough is never enough. Many of them saw this as an opportunity to bilk the poorest travelers out of what little they already had. The religiously powerful used the opportunity to profit outrageously as they exchanged Roman money for Jewish currency – which was the only acceptable coinage for buying the animals approved for sacrifice – which the religious leaders also sold at a large profit.
It was a racket.
And like most rackets, it prayed on those who could least afford to be taken advantage of – the “least of these.”
For the Roman authorities, Passover presented a true danger. As I said, Passover commemorated Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to escape a repressive government. Well, Rome was a repressive government.
It might not surprise you that a repressive, occupying government might not want the people they are oppressing to get too worked up over a story about how their people escaped from a repressive government. That was certainly true of Rome.
For Rome this meant they needed to “encourage” a calm and peaceful observation of Passover. Like far too many ruling regimes, for them this meant bringing in muscle… and a lot of it.
The folks in Jerusalem were being taken advantage of both monetarily and physically. As is almost always the case, the more influence and power a particular person had, the less likely they were to be taken advantage of. That meant that those suffering the brunt of the occupation were, of course, the “least of these.”
It might not surprise you to know that Jesus did not take too kindly to that reality.
If there is one single story about Jesus, that seems the most out of place, that seems the most out of character, that seems the most out of sorts, it is probably the story of Jesus flipping tables in the temple courtyard. What would send this peaceful, equality-seeking, teacher of love and compassion into a chaos causing rage?
Over the years, I’ve read and heard so many attempts to explain his behavior – in some cases they are really more like attempts to explain away his behavior. For me, the answer is really much more simple than any of that.
As I mentioned, the Roman “muscle” had been brought in to keep things calm and peaceful. One of the most visible places where this could be seen would have been atop the wall which surrounded the temple courtyard. You see, the religious leaders also happened to be the local political leaders. Rome had a vest interest in protecting the interests of the local political leaders. During this time of the year the courtyard was the very epicenter of their power – it was where they made money.
Under the watchful eye of the Roman guards perched atop the surrounding walls, Jesus walked into the heart of their power and money, and resisted.
You better believe, they had all been warned at one point or another that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated.
Nevertheless, he persisted.
He knew where this would ultimately lead. But, he knew as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would later say that, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
This would be his greatest lesson. This would be his teachings in action.
This would show the world how to save God from the Powers That Be.
[I’ll continue with my look at what I’m calling the “true” Easter story with my next post.]