Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday set the stage for a showdown between God’s reign and the prevailing principalities and powers. His subsequent acts and teachings challenged the dominant politics of the first as well as the twenty-first century.
According to the synoptic Gospels, Jesus made his way to the temple on the day after he entered Jerusalem. If his first day in the Holy City contrasted with popular images of imperial power, his visit to the temple challenged religion’s definition and exercise of power.
The temple was more than an impressive building. It was sacred space, set apart as a place to meet God, offer sacrifices to the Holy One, and share in God’s presence and promises.
It was also a center of commercial activity as foreign money was exchanged and animals were sold for sacrificing.
There were clearly defined boundaries and controlled access to the holy of holies. Gentiles were welcome, but they were relegated to the outer courts. And, they were dependent upon the merchants and those who ran the currency exchange for their participation in the temple.
In other words, the temple operated on the market logic of economic exchange at least as it pertained to the Gentiles. Access to full participation in the temple’s holy space and ritual practices was significantly limited by ethnicity, economics, and the discretion of the leaders of the temple.
Jesus angrily and forcefully challenged the prevailing temple politics of exclusion and exploitation. He overturned the instruments of commerce and with whips of cord cleared the temple of the enforcers and exploiters.
Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declared: ” Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).
Temple leaders were robbing people of more than money. They were robbing ‘the other’ of full participation in God’s holy space and presence.
The place of prayer, means of connecting people to God, was being dominated by the politics of exploitation and exclusion.
Any relevance for the church in today’s world? How much do our congregations reflect the politics of exclusion, exploitation, and the market logic of exchange?
Who are “the others” who are relegated to the periphery of participation in God’s presence and promise? Is the church really open to ALL nations?
How much of the contemporary church’s life reflects the market values of statistical growth and “what’s in it for me”?
What about those of us in leadership? Do we engage in the politics of exclusion or the politics of hospitality, the politics of control or the politics of the compassion, the politics of personal career advancement or the politics of the common good?
The plot to kill Jesus grew after he chased the exploiters and enforcers from the temple. Religious operatives and political leaders began their collusion to be rid of the one who practiced a different politics–the politics of compassion, justice, and hospitality.
Yes, Jesus enters church politics! He challenges our politics of exclusion, exploitation, and reducing God to a commodity available for a price.