Yesterday, Christians around the world celebrated Palm Sunday. A day when little kids wave around palm fronds in celebration of King Jesus. A day when the revolutionary message of Palm Sunday is lost on most of the world’s Christians, at least here in the United States.
The Subversive Final Week of Jesus
It is the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, in a sort of riff off of messianic expectations of his day. The triumphal entry of Jesus evoked Simon Maccabaeus, who two centuries earlier entered Jerusalem, “with praise and palm branches and with hymns and songs” (1 Mac 13:51). Maccabaeus was a rebel general who used military prowess to liberate Palestine from Greek rule. It also served as a mockery of a Roman triumph, wherein the victorious general would enter Rome upon a magnificent steed after a major victory.
Jesus’ entry was different. Jesus didn’t come as a well armed king on a stallion or even a grown donkey. Instead he rode in on a small colt, a humble animal. The use of a colt draws from the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, which points forward to a humble king who will enter on a colt and bring peace.
After his triumphal entry, Jesus entered the temple, aggressively disrupted commerce, and effectively occupied the temple courts. Jesus shut down the Temple economy.
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. (Luke 19:45-48)
The powerful are patient, up until you hurt their cash flow.
Jesus ministered for three years confronting all manner of oppression. But after he disrupted the temple economy, he was dead within a week.
Jesus didn’t flip over tables in the temple because it ruined the worship vibe. Folks were profiting from the poor…and benefiting from their continued poverty. And Jesus was killed for his actions.
The Passion of Dr. King
On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr preached his “Beyond Vietnam” sermon at Riverside Church in New York City. In it, he declared:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computer, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars need re-structuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.
Soon after, King began to organize the Poor People’s March on Washington along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whereupon thousands of poor folks would march on Washington, creating a shanty town on the Washington Mall where they would remain. In King’s words, the group was to declare: “We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way…and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.”
One year to the day after his “Beyond Vietnam” sermon, and a little over a month before he could lead the Poor People’s March, King was assassinated.
King had spent years condemning racism. But now he began to condemn militarism and capitalist exploitation as well.
The powerful are patient, up until you hurt their cash flow.
The Temple Economy Today
Today is tax day in the USA—the last day to file income taxes. All of those taxes flow into the coffers of governance. The government is expecting $3.645 trillion in revenue (half of which comes from income taxes). Most of the federal budget goes towards mandatory expenses like medicare, social security, and the like. $1.426 trillion of 2019’s budget is “discretionary.” And over half of that discretionary spending is tied up in the costs of war. Our taxes bring violent oppression to countries all around the globe, including our own.
It isn’t just tax dollars that are used for oppression. As I’ve noted in recent articles, Christian investment firms like Thrivent Financial are investing millions of dollars into the military industrial complex. And millions of dollars are flowing through donor-advised funds are being directed to Islamophobic and Homophobic hate groups. The National Christian Foundation (one of the US’s largest charities) has passed long $56 million in the past three years to hate groups.
The “giant triplets” of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are alive and well today. And they are being supported by those who claim to follow Jesus. The same Jesus who flipped tables in the temple.
Like Jesus and King, we need to challenge and disrupt our economic system of oppression. And we need to do this with more than words.
Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin once said “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers. Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable. The only weapon we have is our bodies. And we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.”
We need to monkey wrench the systems of oppression. We need to disrupt the worship of churches that promote militarism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. We need to block the flow of money, making things unworkable. We need to “tuck” our bodies into every institution that funds oppression. We need to make it so “wheels don’t turn.”
As long as the owner class can out-spend us, movements of poor people will be at a disadvantage. As long as white folks have more assets than people of color, anti-racist movements will be at a disadvantage. As long as oppressors are richer, the oppressed will be at a disadvantage. There is more money in war than in peace.
All we have is each other. And Jesus’ call to take up the Cross and follow him. And this has to be more than mere sentiment, but to the sort of faith that turns over tables wherever we find oppression.
Until the church rises to this challenge, we will fail to live up to our calling.