Tag Archives: Herod

Firing a Warning Shot Across Religion’s Bow

But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Matthew 3:7-10

As Jesus appeared on the scene, the political landscape in the land of Palestine was a complex one. The Roman Empire occupied the territory and the occupational forces maintained law and order. Rome maintained regional civil ruler which gave the residents of the area a local authority. Herod the Great died a few years after he slaughtered all the baby boys of Bethlehem, and his rule was divided between his sons. If you were Jewish, however, your life and religion was subject to the authority of the High Priest and religious leaders who managed the Temple in Jerusalem. It operated much like a city-state under Roman authority. The temple had its own currency (thus the need for the money changers that Jesus would throw out) and economy.

Both Rome and Herod knew that the Jewish people held allegiance to their religion above any civil ruler. They’d been living under one foreign power or another for over 500 years. Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans had all occupied their land. The Jewish people had no allegiance to any of them. They High Priest and religious leaders ruled their people through their intricate system of laws and held the power of salvation by cutting people off from making their sacrifices or deeming their sacrifices unacceptable. Religion had become a powerful racket.

John the Baptist was a prophet, an outsider, and a troublemaker for the status quo. People flocked to the wasteland outside of Jerusalem to hear him preach a message that resonated with those marginalized by the Righteous Racket of the Temple’s power brokers. John told people to change their hearts, to repent of their sins, and he washed them in the waters of the Jordan rather than insisting they go pay exorbitant currency exchange rates to purchase “official” temple goods for sacrifice at the Temple. In other words, the more popular he became, the more he cut into Temple profits and represented a potential for uprising that threatened the power of the Sanhedrin’s powerful syndicate.

So, the High Priest sends envoys to check out this vagabond upstart. John wastes no time. He fires a prophetic shot across their bow. One is coming who will change everything. Tectonic plates in the spiritual realm are going to shift and the Temple’s racket will be no more. The first shot in a conflict is fired which will ultimately lead those same religious racketeers to pay 30 pieces of silver for Jesus’ betrayal and they will stop at nothing until He is executed.

Yet, just like Herod the Great in yesterday’s chapter, in God’s economy those who stop at nothing to cling to power will ultimately find it slipping from their grasp. The Jesus they executed would not stay in the grave, and His followers would “turn the world upside down” within a generation. At the end of that same generation the Romans would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, and with it they would torch all of the Jewish genealogical records. If you can’t substantiate who is from which tribe then you can’t determine who the Levites are, or who descended from Aaron and qualified as a priest. The Temple and its sacrificial system were no more.

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing

featured photo courtesy WallyG via Flickr

When You are Weak…

Liberacion_de_San_Pedro_Murillo_1667But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Acts 12:24 (NIV)

Executions. Imprisonments. Persecution. And yet, the word of God continued to spread and flourish.

There were so many reasons for hopelessness and despair. If you were a gambler there was every reason to put your money on the powers-that-be. These Jesus followers, becoming known as “The Way” or “Christ-ians,” were such a rag-tag, motley crew of uneducated misfits. The power was with Rome. The power was with the regional ruler, Herod. The power was with the politically leveraged Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Put your money on the power brokers. These Jesus people are doomed.

But wait a minute…
“‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

I’ve been mulling over our daughter’s blog post the past few weeks. It keeps bubbling up in my heart and mind at random moments. It bubbled up again as I read this morning’s chapter. She writes:

My faith, which had once seemed small and simple became increasingly challenging and complex. I went to six different countries and in each I was confronted with injustice and brokenness that sank my heart and made my blood boil. But I found it impossible to be disheartened to the point of giving up on my faith because the people who had every reason to believe that God had abandoned them were the most faithful, resilient, grateful and joyful people. Consistently. Everywhere I went. And they could tell you of all the ways God provided for them. Even when the world was dark and evil, He was still good, they told me. There was never any denying of the loss that comes from war, poverty, famine, or disease…but there was always rejoicing in hope. I think in much of the third-world there is a greater understanding of Jesus’ words, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The river of God flows upstream. The Kingdom of God is not a Kingdom of this world. The Spirit does not operate in the same way as flesh and blood. Those who have the least in this world realize that they have more than anyone perceives. Those who are weak and find a source of power that is not of this world. Those doomed discover that God can do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think.

We who have so much are blind to the true depths of our poverty.

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A Small Detail of Culture and Economics

healing of maryAfter this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 8:1-3 (NIV)

I mentioned last week that I appreciate Luke for the small details he researched and added into his telling of Jesus’ story. The opening of today’s chapter is an example. Luke is careful to point out that Jesus was accompanied, not only by the twelve, but also by some women whom Jesus had healed. When reading “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household,” Luke’s contemporaries would have read that description and immediately understood that Joanna was a woman of means. Herod was a regional king ruling under the authority of the Roman Empire, and managing Herod’s household would have been a well paying position. Luke points out that the women were traveling with Jesus and helping to support Jesus ministry financially. This little detail fascinates me.

In Jesus day, women in Palestine had very low social status. The Jewish culture at that time, it can be argued, was misogynistic. Women were treated with contempt and good Jewish men could be heard reciting ritual prayers thanking God that they had not been born Gentiles (non-Jews), dogs, or women. I can’t imagine how that made women feel when they heard their husbands reciting such a thing.

Jesus, however, cut against the grain of the contemporary culture. He spoke with women in public which scandalous in that day. He socialized with broken women of ill-repute and treated them with love, compassion, and forgiveness. He did not discriminate in performing miracles. He was not only seen publicly healing men, but also touching and healing women of their infirmities both physical and spiritual. Jesus didn’t fear wrath and ridicule for these things, and He received a generous dose of both. Jesus did what was right in the face of popular culture and treated women with the love, honor, and respect that is due to all daughters of Eve. THAT is the Jesus I follow and strive to be like.

In giving us this detail, Luke also clues us in to how Jesus’ traveling ministry operated financially. At least part of the funds required to support Jesus and his followers came from the financial means of his followers, women of means in particular. The principle here is simple. Jesus followers and those whom He healed gave out of their gratitude to support Him and His ministry. It should be no different today. I give regularly to the on-going work of Jesus, not out of blind obedience, guilt, or shame, but out of gratitude for what Jesus has done in my own life.

Another thing this little detail makes me think about is the case of Joanna. Her money was coming directly from Herod’s palace. Herod was a corrupt, evil, murderous tyrant. I can hear the conversations of Jesus’ followers around the fire at night arguing whether Jesus should accept such “dirty” money. Doesn’t that come from evil means? Isn’t accepting that money just a vote of support for Herod and his evil ways? There is no mention of Jesus having any qualms about accepting Joanna’s gifts, despite the fact that it flowed from Herod’s coffers.

There is a timeless, on-going debate about the financial inequalities among peoples and social groups. Financial inequalities existed in Jesus’ day. In fact, it can be argued that the inequalities were even more extreme than what we experience in modern western culture. Yet Jesus’ own ministry would not have been possible were it not for the financial support of followers who were among the rich of that day. I find it interesting that while Jesus taught constantly about money, the teaching was almost always focused on the spiritual connection between individuals and their finances. Jesus never spoke out about the corrupt Roman tax system, but He spoke to individual tax collectors about not using the system to extort money from others. Jesus did not condemn the rich for having money, but He did warn individuals that their love of money was leading them down a spiritual path to condemnation. The only time Jesus made any kind of broader statement was with regard to the extortion racket being carried out by the religious leaders in the temple.

This morning I’m thinking about Jesus, who showed love and compassion to those His culture did not love. I’m thinking about Jesus, who was not as concerned about the macro economic and political issues of this world, as He was about the micro-spiritual connection between our money and our hearts. I’m thinking about Jesus, whom I want to emulate in my thoughts, words and actions this day.