Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throwing Over Those Money Changers' Tables

Recently, while doing some research for a project I was putting together, I connected two dots that I had previously not known to be connected.

Both Jesus of Nazareth and Martin Luther King, Jr had ministries that spanned years and ended in roughly the same way.  MLK's was longer than Jesus', but Jesus seemed to pack a lot more in a shorter period of time.
Anyway, its pretty clear from the three synoptic Gospels that if they were even aware of him, the authorities of his day tolerated Jesus' rebellious ministry right up until the time that he messed with their money - their source of power - when he pitched his fit in the temple and overturned the money changers tables.  A couple days later he had been arrested, tried and executed.
Following that same pattern, right around the time he probably considered to be the prime of his activist career - in his mid 30's after a successful campaign to bring about legal equality -  MLK shifted his focus to financial equality. He turned his attention to how the Vietnam war was being fought by the poor (mostly blacks), for the benefit of the wealthy (mostly whites).  At New York City's Riverside Church, exactly one year to the day before his execution, he delivered an address, in which he said this:
"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 is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."
It was the 1967 version of overturning the money changers' tables.  This shift of focus alienated him from those who had been his allies - among them President Johnson and union leadership - who saw this line of thought to be dangerous.

They were right.  It was dangerous for Jesus and it was dangerous for MLK. 

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