Are we seeking political solutions to deep spiritual problems?
- Dr. John Neihof
Her priests have violated my law and profaned my holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.
Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And he said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”
Conservative versus liberal ideologies are nothing new. In Ezekiel's youth, temple worship was polluted by compromising, tolerant priests—liberals—who refused to recognize the difference between the holy and the profane, the clean and the unclean, the righteous and the sinful, true worship and idolatry. These sins of the priests, along with the failures of the prophets and the people, were at the heart of Israel's rebellion that landed them in oppression and captivity. They "profaned my holy things."
During the Babylonian captivity, the Hebrews, under the leadership of Ezekiel the prophet, searched their hearts, the Scriptures, and their history to understand how they had violated God's covenant with them. They started synagogues to study the Hebrew law. A conservative group of holy men, scribes and Pharisees, emerged from captivity as the spiritual leaders of the nation. These scribes and Pharisees were the leaders of a spiritual and national revival movement in Israel for the next 400 years.
When Jesus appeared on the scene in the first century, two political factions dominated Hebrew life and culture. The Sadducees were the political moderates and liberals who practiced appeasement toward the Roman occupying presence in Israel, thus protecting their political party. The Sadducees controlled the high priesthood in the Jerusalem temple. Although they were the minority party of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees rarely lost a battle they wanted to win against the conservative faction of scribes and Pharisees.
The scribes and Pharisees were among Jesus ‘chief opponents—lawyers, students, and scholars. Their scrupulous observance of the Hebrew ceremonial law reached far beyond the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, to include oral tradition, interpretations, and explanations of the law. Their addendums were massive, and carried the same moral obligation for the people as the Law of Moses.
The chief priest and the Sadducees were in a struggle for the control of the Hebrew nation, doing battle with the conservative scribes and Pharisees, all under the watchful eye of Rome. This power struggle set the Sadducees and Pharisees up for a fight with Jesus, the Son of God.
Our Lord must have watched the exploitation of the people at the temple all His life. The liberal Sadducees controlled the position of chief priest. The chief priest turned this power into a money making scheme by appointing the inspecting priest who examined the sacrificial animals which people brought to temple for sacrifice. Animals had to be approved as being without blemish to be permitted to be slaughtered and burned as an offering on the temple altar. The complicit task was to disapprove a prescribed percentage of the perfectly acceptable sacrifices, purchase them at a deeply discounted price above the powerless protests of the inconvenienced worshiper. The rejected animal would then be introduced as the newest acquisition to the temple herd, only to be resold to a worshiper as an unblemished sacrifice a few days later.
The Sadducees had the scribes and Pharisees over a barrel. The conservative Pharisees were so dug into their rigid position that they had no moral authority to protest the enforcement of holiness, however corrupt, in the priests’ approval of the sacrificial beasts. The Sadducees could simply hide behind their claim that they were fastidiously enforcing the Hebrew law. At that point, the Pharisees' protests failed, for legalistic enforcement of the Law of Moses was what they insisted.
The Sadducees' conflict with the scribes and Pharisees put the average Hebrew in a losing position along with the Pharisees. Only the chief priest came out looking the winner.
Jesus understood what was going on. He had watched the exploitative process all His life. He was probably first exposed to it as a twelve-year-old boy when His family traveled to Jerusalem for Passover (Luke 2:41-50). Perhaps, He and Joseph had even suffered the refusal of their unblemished sacrifice at the hands of the chief priest's corrupt inspector.
It could explain why Jesus was so incensed by what He knew was going on in the Temple. Not once, but twice, Scripture records Jesus’ cleansing of the temple at the beginning of His ministry in John 2, and at the end of His ministry in Matthew 21 and Luke 19. It is interesting that Jesus began and ended His ministry with cleansing the temple.
Jesus transcended the trap of the liberal v. conservative political continuum of His day by emphasizing holiness, prayer, healing, and spiritual power. He was not co-opted or compromised by political pressures. He rose above the entrapment of politics and spoke wholeness and hope into an abusive situation. Think about that.
What does Jesus’ principled action have to say about how I should live in this present age?
Jesus was not reactionary. He thought and felt deeply about the matter of His Father's house for many years. He loved the Father, the people, and true worship. He opposed everything from the left and the right that limited access to the Father, especially the profiteering that had polluted the place of prayer for exploitative purposes.
What are the bonds that enslave and keep us from knowing our Heavenly Father today? What are the barriers to prayer in life today? Do we oppose barriers to the Father with the same urgency and persistence Jesus showed? Are we seeking political solutions to deep spiritual problems?
What about my temple? The temple of my heart? Is my temple polluted with profiteering and self-interest so that true fellowship with the Father is compromised? Am I so rigid in my emphasis of liberal and conservative, so idolatrous in my emphasis of right over left, so consumed with time above eternity, that my temple is polluted?
My prayer: “Jesus, drive the double-mindedness from my heart and enthrone Yourself as the single object of my affection. Help me to transcend the political strife of my age so that I am truly Christian. Help me to speak healing and wholeness into the brokenness of our time-bound existence rather than being compromised by it. Amen.”