Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus, the Temple Cleansing and OWS

The Jerusalem Temple was Judah's central bank and financial institution.

It traded in commodities: sheep, lambs, goats, bulls, doves and grain - thousands of animals slaughtered, and while some of the meat was entirely consumed in the fires of sacrifice, most of the meat was sold in the market, and much of the grain was made into flour and bread for the Temple employees, along with some of the meat, cooked right there. It was a huge enterprise, and only got bigger on the Festivals, especially The Passover, when tens of thousands of pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire.

The Temple was where financial records were kept - loans and ownership, to which Jesus refers when he speaks of the "legal experts" (Matthew 20.45ff) who cheat widows out of their homes and then walk around in "suits" - long robes, and say long prayers.

It was no accident that when Bar Kochba led a revolt (132-36) against Rome, they stormed the Temple and burned all the financial records, which, in effect, brought about the Jubilee, or the Year of the Lord's Favor (noted by Jesus in his hometown sermon in Nazareth).

Debt was a huge issue for the people - so it's no accident that Jesus zeros in on the wealthy and says, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God."

It is no coincidence that Jesus uses "debts" in the Lord's Prayer, in spite of the fact that some English translations prefer the word "trespass," or "sins" - the word would have caught the ear of many a listener. Clearly, there's a double meaning here: the spiritual debts incurred to God by our many failures, the breaking of covenant with God; but for the people to whom Jesus was speaking, the burden of debt was always in mind, as it is for us. And the center phrase, "as we forgive our debtors" would surely have been the Jubilee dream of a fresh start for all, free of the crushing burden of debt - the moral and spiritual debt to God, and the burdens of financial debt - for both the debtor and the creditor.

When Jesus storms into the Temple upon his arrival in Jerusalem (the Synoptic Gospels; John places the Temple cleansing early in the story) and overturns the money-changing tables, he's going after the central financial system of Judah ... claiming that Judah had, in fact, made mammon it's god.

If Jesus were to do the same thing today, would he storm into a church somewhere?

Not likely.

He'd more likely storm into a bank lobby and break a few things.

Would he join the ranks of OWS?

The poor, the outcast, the debtors?

What do you think?