Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ Came Juggling: An Easter Poem

Christ came juggling from the tomb,
flipping and bouncing death's stone pages,
tossing those narrow letters high
against the roots of dawn spread in cloud.
This Jesus, clown, came dancing
in the dust of Judea, each slapping step
a new blossom spiked with joy.

Hey! Listen -- that chuckle in the dark,
that clean blast of laughter behind --
Christ comes juggling our tombs,
tossing them high and higher yet,
until they hit the sun and break open
and we fall out, dancing and juggling
our griefs like sizzling balls of light.

-- Eugene Warren, from The Risk of Birth, poems selected by Luci Shaw

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Our Saviour of the Junk Drawer: Photography

I discovered this Jesus reposing in the junk drawer at the guest minister's condo where I am staying. I hate to admit it (well, no I don't -- I preached on another wee little sinner man this morning -- Zaccheaus) but I was looking for a corkscrew. Instead, I found this little beige Jesus nestled in with the tiny light bulbs, batteries, and other miscellany. -- Brent

Zaccheaus: A Lenten Meditation

Zacchaeus may have been, as the song says, a wee little man, but Jericho, where he lived, was no wee little town. We often have in our minds pictures of places such as Jericho as dusty Judean backwaters, full of small dwellings and people struggling to get by. While Jericho certainly had its poorer population, in the main our mental image of the place is wrong. It was know as the City of Palms, this city where Jesus encountered both blind Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus. Jericho was a thriving economic center. Situated in the rich Jordan valley, it commanded the approaches to Jerusalem and important river crossings to the east. The fragrance from its balsam trees filled the air for miles around. It was known world wide for its rose gardens and the Romans carried its fame, along with its dates and balsam, to the far reaches of their empire.

It was more than an important agricultural trading center and crossroads for the empire, though. It was also the winter resort for Jerusalem’s aristocracy, a literal first century Palm Springs. Kings built winter palaces there. Herod’s alone featured sunken gardens, a Roman style bathhouse, swimming pools and another pool large enough to go boating on. Herod also constructed a large horse and chariot racing course and theater complex for athletic events, dramas and musical. Jericho was a good place to do business for either a blind beggar-man or a tax collector.

Everyone, from kids in Sunday school to those of us who are older, knows that Zacchaeus was short. But he was a wee little man in more than his stature. He had risen to the top of his profession, but how he got there meant he was hardly well regarded. He worked for the hated Romans, collecting taxes or tolls from his own people to help finance the foreign oppression. And while his name is a combination of names meaning “clean or innocent” and “righteous and upright” he is not seen that way by his fellow citizens. Far from being innocent and upright, operating in that rich economic climate, he made quite a bit.

Zacchaeus, in spite of his wealth and professional standing as one of the chief tax collectors, was not happy. According to the Bible accounts, he was not only short in stature; he was also short of both friends and contentment.

But for some reason, he wants to see Jesus. He hurries from his home and tries to get through the crowd to catch a glimpse. No matter how hard he tries to weasel his way through the crowd, he is kept back. You can imagine the people deliberately keeping him from getting through. Here’s a chance to give the little tax collector some pay-back. He always wants some of what the people have. This time they have the best view of the traveling teacher and his crowd and Zacchaeus is not going to take any part of it.

But Zacchaeus is not a man to be denied. He didn’t get to be wealthy by letting the people have their way. He’d scratched and scrambled his way to get what he wanted and he would do it again. So he looked around and spied a sycamore tree growing out over the roadside, offering some sheltering shade, climbable branches of the type favored by young boys and a good view. Off he went, shimming up it and hiding himself in its branches, ready to catch a glimpse of Jesus.

As we all know, his climbing got him more than a glimpse, he got a dinner guest for his efforts. A dinner guest who changed his life. Zacchaeus’ life was never the same after his encounter with Jesus. He marks his change by pledging to give half of what he owns to the poor and return four-fold to anybody he had defrauded. This is far above what the Mosaic Law required. I think it shows that when we encounter Jesus, a new Law, a higher Law is written upon our hearts and encourages us to do all that we can, not just what is required.

In spite of that change, the good religious people grumbled about Jesus going Zacchaeus’ for a meal. It’s one thing to give sight to a blind man as Jesus did just before meeting Zacchaeus. But dining with a tax collector? An agent of the pagan government! He’s a sinner!!

Ouch! That word hurts, even today. Sinner. It’s not something we like to talk about. It sounds so judgmental. Yet, that’s what the people call Zacchaeus and Jesus doesn’t say “No, he isn’t. Leave him alone.” Neither does Zacchaeus. Instead Zacchaeus, though he never uses the word, repents. Repent merely means to turn around – to change direction. Zacchaeus certainly does that. Instead of living life trying to grab all he can get, he suddenly reverses course and puts a right valuation of his wealth. He’s got all this money and he’s going to become a good steward. He’ll repay anybody he cheated – four times what he cheated them. And beyond that, he’ll give half of all he has to the poor.

When he makes that announcement, Jesus tells him, and the crowd, that salvation has come to that house that day and that the purpose of his coming was to seek and save the lost.

Seek and save the lost. Again those words may make us uncomfortable. They are loaded with lots of emotional and theological freight and have been used throughout history to label people. But they are Jesus’ words. He comes to seek and save the lost. What we need to do is to try to drop our prejudiced understanding of them and look at what Jesus is saying.

In the New Testament, the word lost means simply that – lost. It doesn’t mean doomed or damned for all eternity. It means that whatever is lost is in the wrong place. It’s not where it should be. This is true in all of Jesus’ parables (like the one about the lost coin) and about people, too. A thing, or person, is lost when it or he or she is not in the right place. In Zacchaeus and our cases, a person is lost when, on their life’s journey, they have wandered away from God.

We have all had times when traveling that we suddenly find ourselves where we shouldn’t be – sometimes even heading the opposite direction completely. Certainly that was true for Zacchaeus. He was making a pile of money and living well, but he was far from God. That’s what Jesus meant when he said he came for the lost. He came for those of us (and that is all of us) who have been, or may be, in the wrong place.

Likewise, when Jesus talks about “saving” he means restoring. In the New Testament, something is saved when it returned to its rightful place. That’s how Jesus saves us. He returns us to our rightful place, as sons and daughters of the living God. In other words, saved is the opposite of lost – when we are found. We are found when we allow Jesus to bring us home to the family estate of our loving heavenly parent.

This “being found,” “saved,” is what happens when we seek Jesus and he seeks us. Remember, Zacchaeus, like Bartimaeus, did his part. He got himself to a place where he could see Jesus. He knew that for all he had, there was something he lacked. He knew he was not in his right place.

Zacchaeus wasn’t the only one doing the seeking. Jesus sought him out, too. Instead of passing under the tree and continuing along his way, Jesus stopped, looked up and called Zacchaeus down and then led him to the right place. He found him.

Jesus does that same thing today. The everliving Christ restores us to the family of God. That’s something we need to remember this Lenten season. We follow one who came to bring us back where we belong, no longer lost and wandering, but safe, and saved, to the home that is prepared for us.

Whatever happened to Zacchaeus? This despised tax collector, who did everything he could to get his hands on money and wealth, was hated by his neighbors and himself, and was wandering through life, lost and alone. When brought home by the Master, he changed into the person he was meant to be. He grew to fit his name – upright and righteous. The Bible doesn’t say anything else about him, but ecclesiastical tradition does. It says that he was indeed brought home – in a magnificent way. It tell us that, appointed by Peter, the rock on which Christ founded his church, Zacchaeus became the church’s bishop in Caesarea.

What will happen to us? For one we need to use this time of the church calendar (and every day) to look at our own lives. Do we live up to our name as Friends of God? Are we the people we should be? Are we in the right place or the wrong place? If we are in the wrong place, let us make it our prayer, that, like Zacchaeus, we find ourselves in the wrong place at the right time – the time when Jesus passes by.

-- Brent

Thursday, April 07, 2011

David Finke Repsonds to My Post: "On Quaker Life and the Peace Testimony"

Below you will find David Finke's response to my post on "Quaker Life and the Peace Testimony" and some of the comments (notably by Jeremy Mott and myself). Since David does not blog and posted this as a series of comments (limited by the word length parameters that Blogger imposes) I offered to post it (unedited) as one, seamless article so that readers could gain the full effect of his writing. I offer my response in the comments section.

From David:

I am very much enjoying reading Jeremy's pointed challenges (he never has been mealy-mouthed or half-way about anything). He addresses the question that has been central to his life and mine: namely, how does discipleship to the Prince of Peace square with the demands of the war-making State? My testimony to J.M.'s steadfast integrity first had occasion to be public when he called me as a character witness (yes, he was a character!) in his federal trial in Chicago (1968?) for draft noncooperation -- a high honor in my life.
He and I both come from family traditions which honored the much-misunderstood and maligned positions both of conscientious objection and also conscientious non-cooperation with an institution determined to be fundamentally evil. My father was a legally-recognized C.O. during W.W. II, while my uncle was imprisoned for failing to take the ministerial exemption the draft board insisted upon rather than consider his C.O. claim. Jeremy has described how he had functioned -- in good consciences but at different times -- both within and outside of the institution of conscription. For myself, there was both the legal recognition at age 18, and then at age 26 (when I became "over age" because I'd never sought a deferment) I sent back my draft card -- inspired by the moral consistency and sacrifices of Jeremy and his comrades from 1967 when the draft was revived to provide fodder for the cannons of Vietnam.
So I write not with the assumption that there is only one, self-evident, way in which a dedicated Christian may respond in good conscience to the demands of the war-making and conscripting State. I try very hard to understand and have respect for people whose choices are other than mine. I submit in humility to the only One who Jesus says we may consider Good.
However, I want to get in my own friendly licks here in this discussion, knowing that Brent welcomes creative and forthright dialogue, and that we may pursue with respect whatever disagreements we may apparently have.

First, I challenge his use of the phrase "national service" when referring to the choice to enter the military (or to accept it when thrust upon one, under penalty of law.) You mention that your son-in-law "felt led to serve." I trust you saw that the choice made by Bob (if not yourself) was also a leading to serve.

Although "serving" is the dominant, common way of referring to being in the military -- and builds on noble, self-giving, altruistic impulses which young people may have for wanting to help and protect their fellow human beings -- I will actively resist the equation of preparation for killing with the concept of "service."

It is a slick illusion, a swindle perpetrated upon our youth. It is an elusive euphemism, undergirded by the cult of the National Religion and its ceremonies. It is not consistent with Truth. My view of the primary role of the military is not altered by the fact that occasionally they are mobilized for humanitarian disaster relief, or peddled to the desperate and gullible as "job training" or "being all you can be."

The ability to demolish villages, blast apart bodies, destroy families... all these are to be done without question to those giving the orders, if one properly follows ones indoctrination, discipline, and preparation. The most effective counter-recruiters that I have known over the decades are the soldiers/sailors/marines who have been out there doing the dirty-work of the warmakers (who, legendarily, sit in posh offices sending others to their death.)

They know that warfare is not about "freedom" or "service" or glory. At the least, it is about trying to stay alive, and then doing what one can to protect one's comrades. Let the honest veterans make this case, if we will listen to them. (Most of them I've known adamantly refuse to talk about what they had to do when in combat; I cannot blame them.)

Secondly, there is the tendency in your narrative, Brent, to imply that at least for your friends if not for yourself, there were equally good, moral, justifiable decisions made about the military -- all consistent with Christian principles. I find that only slightly distant from moral relativism. I suspect that it arises from charity, respect, and not wanting to seem "judgmental." But concerning how many other social evils are you willing to simply say, "That's not my choice; that's not what I am led to do"? No, I think you as a follower of Christ can be very clear-cut as to what is required of you and what is forbidden to you, and that you understand this teaching of the Way of Love to be universal rather than selective. Such a position, of course, goes against the dominant Individualism of our era and culture.

We may well have heard -- whether in main-line East Coast "liberal" Quakerism, or in the Evangelical branch -- that it's all up to the individual, and the "peace testimony" is whatever a person decides to do, if they are sincere. "Wear thy sword as long as thou canst" (whether Fox actually said this or not) is the easy way in which we comfort ourselves in believing this is The Quaker Way.

Within the past 150 years, the bulk of our Religious Society decided we would settle for a peace testimony that was optional, or at least "advisory," rather than normative and expected. In this country, I believe this was probably because in the crisis over slavery: A preponderant number of Quaker young people decided to take up arms either to preserve the Union or to have some part in liberating their enslaved brothers and sisters. Those must have been agonizing choices! Those who enlisted or were drafted at least knew they were going against our Peace Testimony, and were readmitted to Quaker membership after making an acknowledgment of that plain fact.

For me, this in no way is to point a finger at those of the Evangelical heritage from which you came. I believe it was Jeremy who first pointed out to me that in W.W. II there was a higher percentage of young men in Oregon Yearly Meeting than in Philadelphia YM who took a position of conscientious objection to military participation.

The central part of your narrative/essay seems to be that Christ will teach us, in God's Time, what we are called to do, according to our being teachable. I have no quarrel with that. But it shouldn't be mysterious as to what Our Teacher's lessons were the first time around -- both in his behavior and his precepts. Jesus makes manifestly clear how we are instructed to deal with those who oppress us. (In the Middle Ages, of course, those who believed that the Sermon on the Mount might require something of them personally were given the monastic life as an alternative, while the "realists" lived in a world of moral compromises.)

It is no accident that for the first 3 centuries after Jesus' earthly ministry, it was NOT an open question as to whether one could be both a follower of Jesus and a soldier. Was that taught in most of our First Day Schools? Or church history classes? The way of martyrdom in faithfulness was what Christians were called to, rather than helping Caesar maintain his empire through the brutality that required soldiers to nail people to crosses. Yes, I know that a lot of the soldiers simply were engaged in road building and what we might call "civil service," even as modern armies have more people behind desks than in foxholes. But the purpose of the military has never changed, and we should not let ourselves be fooled. It is about destroying human life and property, to impose the Will of the sovereign State.

How has it happened that of the historic "Peace Churches" we Quakers have slipped into something where we think that war refusal is just a matter of personal preference, and all options are on the table? Was it when we became so acculturated that we didn't want to be seen as "a peculiar people" any longer? Were we embarrassed that we might be confused with the Amish? Did the "seeds of war" in our ever-increasing material goods lead us to welcome that the war-making State would fend off those who might challenge our society's rapacity in gobbling up the resources of this world? I don't have clear answers to this, and I acknowledge that I am at least as much "part of the problem" as "part of the solution," given the society into which I was born and whose benefits I usually accept without much challenge.

Your mention of Lutheranism reminds me that a "two kingdoms" theory hasn't been peculiar to that particular denomination. It certainly has roots in Augustine's formulations ("The City of God and the City of Man"). Luther was, if I recall, an Augustinian friar. The basic sickness, though, I believe goes back to what our Anabaptist brethren rightly denounce as "The Constantinian Captivity of the Church"--in contrast to which they were called to re-establish the True Church... much as Quakers claimed "Primitive Christianity Revived."

Caesar took over the church, welcomed its blessings on whatever policies he deemed expedient, gave them their protected realm in which to rule themselves so long as they stayed out of his way, and won the game. "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" was co-opted to say--quite contrary to Jesus' intention--"Whatever he claims, he can have."

But his Jewish hearers, when Jesus was given that entrapment question, would have known that "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof..." And in the face of Divine Sovereignty over our lives, Caesar can make no ultimate claims. So long as it serves the public weal (the "common wealth") there is a justifiable place for civil government, and to that we should be subject and obedient. Thus, Penn's "Holy Experiment." But the power over life and death? No! "Vengeance is mine, said the Lord, *I* will repay." So far as we have any control over it, we are to live at peace with all.

Unless there's a declaration of war? An Imperial Edict? A call to arms for the militia? Friends faced these challenges, and had a resounding corporate testimony against such an intrusion of Caesar into God's realm. How could we have missed that?

One more thing about Lutheranism's "two kingdoms." Look how that played out in the Third Reich. The Church was told to stay out of the way--actually, was coopted to bless the racism and give an ideological integration to the fanaticism: "German Christianity"--which can only be upheld by a systematic lie as to our faith's Jewish origins! Fortunately, there was the underground "Confessing Church" (Read the Barmen Declaration) which understood "the cost of discipleship" and that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church."

Not that Bonhoeffer's movement was pacifist; they were willing to apply "just war" criteria and strike a blow against tyranny. But how many Christians in our acquaintance either understand the rigorous criteria for a war being "just," or have courageously applied it to whatever the government wants them to kill for?

Anyway, I hope this conversation continues within classic Quaker understandings of what we are called and empowered to be and do. It takes some of us Christians longer rather than sooner. But if we pay attention, there really *is* a corporate witness, which may prevent each of us having to re-invent the wheel. Having listened to the Light Within, the Spirit of the Living Christ--and knowing that it is not the subjective "MY light"--we may be truly guided in His Ways. He has come to teach his people himself.

And it's not, "Whatever...."

Love to all who read this,

The Time Is Fulfilled: A Lenten Meditation

Joseph wondered where Jesus had gone. One day he was working in Joseph’s carpenter’s shop and the next he was gone. The boy Joseph had raised had become a man, almost 30 years old. No longer a child, Joseph thought about making him a full partner in the family firm, eventually turning it over to him. He did good work. His body was rugged and strong; hands steady. He was quiet and caring, good with the customers. He was the most peaceful man Joseph had ever known. Never rushing, deliberate, sure.

But there always seemed to be an undercurrent of impatience to him as well, Joseph thought. While Jesus’ eyes were outwardly fixed on the task of planing rough wood, his inner gaze seemed to be looking out over some unseen vista, his ears straining for some sound beyond that of hammer and saw.

He must have finally heard it, whatever it was he was listening for, for one day when he left home, instead of walking with Joseph into the shop he continued on, not saying a word.

Curious, Joseph followed. One block. Two blocks. Then past the outskirts of Nazareth. Joseph struggled to keep up, the younger man’s stride becoming stronger and more purposeful. Townspeople looked up from their morning chores and watched the odd, two man parade. Then, because they had better things to do than watch an old man and his son hiking out of town, they returned to their work. One mile turned to two, two to three, three to four.

Finally Joseph stopped. I’m fit for my age, he thought, but I’m no youngster. I can’t keep up. The younger man kept walking, even picking up his pace.

Walking beside Jesus, Joseph had thought Jesus’ body seemed to tingle with energy, an energy he’d never seen in the shop before. Or had he? There was always something special about that boy. Something deep within him that set him apart from others his age. Or any age, for that matter. For one he had an affinity with the wood that even Joseph never seemed to possess. He seemed tuned into to the world about him in ways Joseph had never observed in any other person. The dust of the earth swirled about his feet and Joseph strained his ears. He heard a faint music in the air.

Ah, it’s probably just the wind playing tricks on an old man’s ears, he thought. Yet Jesus seemed to be walking in time to it.

Joseph stood in the morning sun, the sky blue above him, a few clouds sailing silently by, and watched him.

Where was he going? he wondered. He had taken no pack, no lunch, no clothing, no walking stick. He had said nothing at breakfast that morning. The day was just a day. Work had to be done. And yet he just walked off – unprepared for a trip, yet obviously leaving on one.

Joseph watched until he was a just a shimmering speck on the horizon. Still the young man's pace never slowed, even as he approached the foot hills. Mount Tabor loomed against the edge of the world. Joseph shrugged and turned toward his shop. Someone had to finish Levi ben Jacob’s table.

About a week later, the merchant Mordecai stopped by Joseph’s shop with an order for a cedar wood chest. Mordecai told Joseph that on his business travels to Caperneum, Magdala, and Tiberius he stopped by the Jordan to watch this fellow John who baptizing men in the river.

“I’m always up for a little entertainment,” he chuckled, “especially by those river preachers. They are something to watch – all that shouting and holy fervor.” Then he spied a man walking out of the Galilean hills. This man came to where John was baptizing in the Jordan. Mordecai asked who it was, covered with dust yet eyes brightly shining. Jesus of Nazareth, some one told him.

“That’s your boy, isn’t it?” he asked Joseph. Joseph nodded yes, while thinking that the closest point on the Jordan River was thirty miles from where he lived. That’s if Jesus had traveled in a straight line, which Joseph’s carpenter’s eye said he had been doing. There were no roads that led directly to from the Jordan to Nazareth. Not that the young man seemed to need any. It appeared that he was comfortable with the dirt, rocks, trees and mountains and they with him.

Perhaps it was singing I heard, thought Joseph, while Mordecai rambled on. Even though I am just a simple carpenter, I know there is more to this life than what most people see. I witness it every time I take a piece of wood and try to shape it. If I work with it, and let it become what it wants to be the results are beautiful. If I force it to become the way I think it should be, it looks that way. Perhaps the boy, I mean the man, had a similar connection with rocks, dirt, mountains, and grass that I had with trees.

Joseph was brought back to the conversation when Mordecai startled him with the announcement that Jesus had John baptize him. And that a dove descended from heaven and a voice was heard proclaiming “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

“It wasn’t your voice I heard,” said Mordecai.

“No,” Joseph replied, “I’m sure it wasn’t.” And he remembered other times when the boy had done remarkable things and other voices had come from heaven. Times of him teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem while a boy of 12 or so. Of angel visitors telling of miraculous births and evil kings. Life had certainly been far from the dull, but satisfying life he though he’d have when he first had apprenticed to be a carpenter.

“Then,” continued Mordecai, “after the voice from the sky, he came up out of the water and started walking into the wilderness on the other side of the Jordan. He just kept on walking. Clothes dripping wet. Not a sack of food or a sleeping bag. I’ll tell you, Joseph, I am worried about that young man.”

“I am, too,” said Joseph, though he wasn’t for the same reason Mordecai was. Jesus wasn’t possessed by demons, like Mordecai thought. Something more powerful had possessed him. God.

Another week passed. Then a month. Then two. Joseph went about his work. His wife, Mary, did, too. She never mentioned the fact that Jesus had just disappeared one day without a word, heading out over the Galilean countryside without so much as a goodbye. She was surprisingly peaceful, though traces of worry etched her brow. Joseph wondered at that, too. How could she not be wondering where her first born had gotten himself off to?

As the second month since Jesus walked out of Nazareth ended, he walked back in, coming back over the same route he traversed when he left. Joseph was hard at work on Mordecai’s chest when a shadow filled the doorway. He looked up, eyes straining through the shops sawdust laden air to see who stood silhouetted against the sunlight.

“Hello, Joseph,” Jesus said. Not “Hello, Father.” Joseph knew something had changed.

“Come in, son, come in,” Joseph called to him, and hugged him to him. “I’ve missed you. Where have you been?”

“I have been to the mountain,” Jesus said, “and the riverside and the wilderness.” And Jesus went on to tell Joseph about his baptism, the dove and voice, and spending forty days being tempted by Satan in the desert.

“My only attendants were wild animals and angels,” Jesus chuckled. “I’m not sure which I was more afraid of.”

It had obviously been a harrowing, life and soul changing time, Joseph thought. The caring, sensitive lad he had known was still there in the man standing before him, but there was steel and fire to him now that had not been present before. Jesus told him what had happened during those forty days and nights and while it sounded incredulous, like the ravings of the demoniac Legion who lived in the tombs overlooking the Sea of Galilee, they were clearly not the tales of a madman. They had the ring of truth. A life changing truth. For both he who spoke the words and those who heard them.

“What now, son?” Joseph asked, as Jesus ended his story.

“I have new work to do,” replied Jesus, softly, but firmly. “The kingdom of God is at hand. It is time sound repentance and good news throughout the land. The time is fulfilled.”

“Yes, I supposed it is,” though Joseph. And what a time it will be, he thought. I hope I am ready for it. I hope you are ready for it. I hope the world is ready for it.

The time is fulfilled.

-- by Brent

Monday, April 04, 2011

Zeal for Your House: A Lenten Meditation

“There’s going to be trouble,” Benjamin yelled over to Jonas whose booth sat next to his in the Temple courtyard. That was his first thought when he saw the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth lead his disciples in through the Temple gates. The courtyard was full to overflowing, yet here came the back country preacher, the crowd parting before him like the Red Sea before Moses. He could tell from the look in his eyes that he was upset.

“It certainly looks like it,” Jonas called back to his friend and fellow merchant. “I’ve heard that if he gets upset, then heaven help the man who faces his wrathful tongue.”

Benjamin and Jonas had been busy setting up their tables and cleaning their booths. The sun would be at its zenith soon and they wanted to get the awnings over their changing tables just right so they could sit in shady comfort. Soon it would be so hot from all the people crowded there that no breeze would be found. If there was, it would more likely blow with the scent of overripe bodies than that of freshening coolness.

It was Passover time – a good time of year for them. Moneychangers like them always had business, of course. So long as Jews came from around the world to worship at the Temple, they’d make a good living. Drachmas, assarions, leptons and staters from Greece, danarius from Rome, Persian daracs, silver and gold coins from Egypt, Sardis, Tire, Sidon and even Palestine itself were valid currency for commerce, but not for the Temple tax. And every Jewish man over nineteen who came to the Temple had to pay that half-shekel tax, the levy that kept the Temple rituals and sacrifices going daily. Two days wages for the good of the faith. Not too bad, but not payable in foreign coinage. It was unclean. They could be used to pay any of one’s debts except the debt to God. For that they had to be changed to shekels.

Shekels – the money of God. Or at least his Temple administrators and priests.

That was the needed service Benjamin, Jonas and their fellow moneychangers provided. They took dirty money and cleaned it – denarii for shekels, the good for the bad. Of course, even though it was a service, it was how they made their living, too. The moneychangers set up a pricing schedule that they thought was fair, something they could all live with. That way no one would undercut the others. There were plenty of pilgrims and so no one had to get too greedy. The exchange rate they came up with was sort of a two for one deal – a tax payer could exchange his money into shekels for a fee that roughly amounted to one day’s wages. They didn’t think that was too bad. Two days for God, one for me. And God got His in good shekels while they got theirs in various foreign currencies, all of which went up and down with the markets and depending on how foreign wars were going. The moneychangers had to do something to cover their risks. Besides, the Talmud allowed moneychanger to make a profit. As it said, “he is obliged to allow the moneychanger some gain.” So making a profit on this service wasn’t so bad. Besides, it was not a mere service they were providing, but an opportunity to worship with a clean heart and clean coins.

And now it was Passover time. All the Temple merchants were in a good mood. This was their big season. While business had been steady throughout the year, now it would get downright brisk. Over two and a quarter million of their fellow Jews would be gathering in Jerusalem for Passover. They’d be coming to the Temple. Most would need to change their money from secular to sacred. These would be both High Holy and high profit days for Benjamin, Jonas, and their fellow tradesmen.

“He’s getting closer,” Benjamin hollered to his friend, nodding toward Jesus.

“Yes, and he looks furious,” answered Jonas.

Jesus’ robes swirled about him, his sandals kicked up both dust and the stench of hot bodies and animal waste all crowded into an area barely big enough to get up a good game of soccer. Jesus bent low to the ground, picked up some loose rope. The crowd closed around him.

“What’s he doing now,” asked Jonas, unable to see.

“It looks like he’s picked up some rope or something and is braiding it together,” said Benjamin, stretching on his tip toes, trying to make out what the rabble rouser was doing in the middle of the crowd. “It looks like he’s making a whip of some sort.”

“That’s trouble, trouble indeed,” called Jonas. “I hope the Temple guards keep a close eye on him. What’s got him so upset.”

“Maybe them,” said Benjamin, pointing to the sellers of sacrificial animals.

Jonas turned to look, calling, “With radicals like him, you can never tell.” They looked beyond the stalls of their fellow moneychangers. Their gazes came to rest on the stalls full of oxen and sheep, cages with their doves.

“Maybe that’s it,” Benjamin nodded, his head pointing toward the animals. “All these animals have turned the place into a sort of zoo.”

“Yes, it’s despicable,” agreed Jonas. “Especially at this holiest time of the year. Besides, those men are extortionists.”

“I agree,” said Benjamin. “Many of these good people who are coming want to have a thankoffering sacrifice besides merely paying their Temple tax. Or they have some sins to atone for. Either requires as suitable offering. Those fellows have quite a racket in sacrificial lambs.”

“Well, the worshippers could buy their sacrifices outside or bring them with them. That’d save some money,” Jonas said.

“Sure, sure,” laughed Benjamin. “They could buy one outside the Temple walls and bring it in. But to be certified acceptable – pure and without blemish – they’d have to get it past the mumcheh.”

“Yes,” Jonas shook his head sadly, “and those Temple appointed inspectors charged a fee as well, almost a half day’s wages.”

“That’s just for the service,” Benjamin clucked. “Then the inspector often finds the animal impure or imperfect. Then the pilgrim had to find another animal.”

“It is practically blackmail,” added Jonas, “the way these poor pilgrims are victimized into buying their sacrifices from the Temple booths if they want to sacrifice at all. Maybe that’s what has Jesus so upset.”

The crowd parted again and Jesus was heading toward them. His stride became ever more purposeful. He had surged to the front of the crowd like a breaking wave. The crowd fanned out in his wake, watching in wonder. They’d seen him assault people verbally before, but this time he looked like he might actually do some physical violence. Gentle Jesus wasn’t so meek and mild all of a sudden. He began swinging the homemade whip over his head and stormed toward the animal sellers. Benjamin and Jonas breathed a sigh of relief as he went by them and headed for the stalls, waving the whip with one hand and turning over tables with the other.

“Get these out of here,” he shouted, opening the dove’s cages and shooing the birds away. “How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!”

“His father’s house?” laughed Benjamin, enjoying the site of those animals sellers scurrying around, alternately trying to round up their merchandise and avoid Jesus’ whip. “His father was a carpenter from that hick town Nazareth.”

“It is written,” Jesus was yelling, “’My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”

“Now he thinks it’s his house,” chuckled Jonas, his laughter dying in his throat as Jesus turned toward him and the other moneychangers and started tearing up their booths, throwing the tables over and scattering coins about the courtyard. The crowd followed him, mingling money with manure as they ground both underfoot.

“Quick,” called Benjamin, “grab what you can and let’s get out of here.” The two money merchants snatched all the sacks of coins they could as Jesus’ and the mob approached. Then they scooted toward the Temple gates, hoping for safety. Benjamin glanced back over his shoulder and saw his booth torn apart by the indigent itinerant. The Temple guards pushed their way through the crowd at the gate, making their purposeful way to put down the unruly crowd. Benjamin hoped they’d be able to handle it. Otherwise the Roman soldiers would be called into to restore order and though Gentiles were allowed inside the Temple courtyard,

Benjamin didn’t want any pagan soldiers there.

As they made their way toward the gate, they noticed one of Jesus band was leaning against the Temple wall. “Judas, that’s what they call that one,” Benjamin said to Jonas, shrugging his shoulder to the man, his hands and arms too full of money bags to point. This Judas seemed to be talking to himself. As they drew neared to him, pulled by the current of the crowd flowing out through the gate, they heard what he was saying.

“Zeal for your house consumes me,” Judas was saying, “and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” He repeated this over and over.

“You there, Judas,” Benjamin called, irritated. “What nonsense are you carrying on about. You’re one of his men, aren’t you.”

“Yes, I am,” Judas answered slowly, a slight smile on his face. “Zeal for your house consumes me and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.’ That’s what I was saying. It’s from the Psalms. It’s about the Messiah.”

“The Messiah,” snuffled Jonas, “that man leading the rabble, turning over tables, destroying the Temple’s lifeblood. You think he’s the Messiah?”

Benjamin and Jonas were then swept through the gate by the crowd.

“Messiah?” called Judas to their retreating backs. “He just might be, he just might be.” He saw something shining on the ground. He stooped down to retrieve it. It was a silver coin. I wish I had about thirty more like you, he thought, then went back to repeating to the people passing by

“Zeal for your house consumes me.”