Thousands of children were torn from the arms of their parents, and the “people of God” were silent.
When there was not silence, there was justification… even when those children were locked in cages.
A few sheets of paper were torn, and the “people of God” were outraged and finally spoke up.
When torn paper is more outrageous than torn families, it reveals the heart of a people.
While the President’s recent State of the Union address revealed many things, the most glaring thing on display that night, and the days which followed, was the heart of a people.
People who profess to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth, but somehow are more outraged at torn paper than torn families.
It reminded me of a time when someone else went to the most sacred hall of a nation and held up a mirror that revealed the heart of a people.
America has a Capitol building– and the spot where the leaders of our nation gather all in one room is perhaps one of the most sacred spots of a nation.
Israel had a temple where the most powerful people gathered together– and that too was the most sacred spot in the nation.
But yet, the people who most loudly claimed to be followers of God stood behind a money-hungry leader who abused his office, and they enacted or tolerated policies that were specifically designed to oppress the poor and immigrant.
And they even did it in God’s name.
The Second Temple was divided into sections; one section was called the Court of the Gentiles. This area of the Temple was at the heart of a nation, and was a place where outsiders (non-Jews, immigrants) were welcomed in–and where they were invited to experience the goodness of God.
But, Annas, the high priest who presided over Israel, had corrupted his office by turning it into a money making scheme for himself and his sons. It is said that many common folk utterly despised him for parading himself around as the most religious among them, when in reality his chief motivation was making himself and his sons rich and powerful. However, the Religious Right loved Annas and embraced him & his family as God’s pick.
Out of his greed for money, Annas and his sons became known for turning the Court of the Gentiles– the place where immigrants and outsiders had previously been welcomed– into a crowded market that not only left no room for them, but oppressed them in God’s name. It even became known as the “Bazaar of Annas” as he rented out spaces to merchants who gouged prices on animals and exchange rates, and gave him a kickback on it all.
Immigrants had to exchange money to buy an animal for sacrifice, so they charged oppressive exchange rates to do that. And when they went to buy the animal itself (because the high priest had approval authority for which animals were acceptable or not) the price of the animal was said to be ten times the going cost.
It was the most sacred place in the nation– the place where the powerful and religious gathered, claiming to follow the same God who said, “Do not oppress the immigrant among you.”
It was also home to the leader who enacted policies that oppressed the immigrant, and who saw his position of power as a way to make himself and his family richer.
And the “people of God” were silent.
But in walks a man named Jesus who knew the truth about Annas, his son-in-law Caiaphas who was now high priest, and the conservative religious leaders who kept them in power– and Jesus protested that oppression by kicking over tables and calling out the corrupt and oppressive system.
Magically, the “people of God” were no longer silent– instead, they were outraged anyone would be so disrespectful.
In fact, they had him arrested and placed him on trial— by none other than Annas and Caiaphas whose corruption in the name of God he was protesting.
Less than 24 hours later, Jesus was dead. (Rigged!)
The “people of God” were not outraged at the sight of poor families who had their own animal rejected by the priest, and who were forced to buy one from his family market with the last of the money they had left.
They were not outraged at the sight of immigrants who traveled many miles only to discover that the Court of the Gentiles– the place saved for them– was now crowded out by the family business of the high priest.
And neither were they outraged when immigrants went hungry because what little extra money they had was stripped away by excessive exchange rates– even though the Bible itself called this an abomination.
No, the “people of God” weren’t outraged until someone knocked a few things over and creatively called their leader a corrupt fraud who didn’t even know the Scriptures. (Mt 21:12-13)
Yes, they were a people who found empty tables more outrageous than empty pockets or empty bellies…
No different than a people who find torn paper more outrageous than torn families.
And my friends, when torn paper is more outrageous than torn families, it is a mirror that reveals to us the heart of a people.
The reflection from it ought be sobering for the one standing in it:
Because when a people are more outraged at torn paper than torn families, it reveals hearts so deeply disconnected from the heart of God… that such a people would despise him to the point of killing him, were they to ever actually meet him.