Some 2,000 years ago, a rogue rabbi from Galilee led a ragtag group of dissidents into Jerusalem at the height of a high holy time.
As Jerusalem was celebrating its most celebrated moment of political and religious liberation, Jesus arrived to protest the whole affair.
He held siege in the Temple, claiming religious leaders had turned the holy place into a den of thieves.
He had already condemned Temple lawyers for their willingness to strip widows of their homes and livelihood – an early precursor of foreclosures to come.
He stood toe to toe against those who divided the world into clean and unclean. He refused to accept the common practice of his day of allowing religion to divide the world between those that God accepted and those that God rejected solely on the basis of some humanly derived theology.
He railed courageously against those that were all too willing to use violence, most often in God’s name, to achieve some partisan purpose. It’s amazing, is it not, how often God is brought in to defend our selfish wants and wishes.
Against all prevailing public sentiment, Jesus took the side of the poor and the dispossessed. He announced that the poor were blessed even as most everyone else in his day argued the opposite – our day, too.
He counseled his kindred to love their neighbors and their enemies. He called for a world of turning the other cheek and going the second mile.
He suggested in not too subtle terms that truth was simply a matter of saying yes to yes and no to no – wisdom that would still serve us well.
He put his hands on lepers – people no one else would dare to befriend.
He treated women as equals, and Gentiles, too – unheard of even among the most liberal.
At one point he stood looking over his holy city and wept for what he knew was about to happen. Not for his own loss so much, but for theirs. How many times has truth come knocking at our door only to find that we were not willing to let it in?
Throngs of people greeted him as he made his way into the holy city. They cried out in ancient hymns of redemption and hope. “Hosanna” and “Praise God.”
But then he disappointed them.
He would not validate their nationalistic dreams. He would not give support to their claims of exclusivity and moral superiority. He would not endorse their sense of political exceptionalism.
Instead he called his kin to the same standard of behavior that he believed God has called all human beings. That we would be family to each other, and that no one would be deprived of the resources provided for all by a loving creator.
I was hungry, he said, and you fed me.
For some reason, in the course of time, people of faith have forgotten this part of his story.
His passion is presented as a simple sacrifice for our sins rather than a demonstration of our sinfulness. His death is interpreted as for us, rather than because of us.
As a result, evangelicalism has severely reduced the Gospel story.
Instead of being a powerful demonstration of the powerless confronting the powers, too many believers have made the confrontation between Jesus, the Temple and Rome only about how we can or cannot get into heaven.
We forget his prayer. May your will be done, on earth – on earth – as it is in heaven.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).