The blind and the lame came to [Jesus] at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
Matthew 21:14-15 (NIV)
I remember once, as a young believer, my friends and I decided that we wanted to organize a weekend event in our church. We wanted to bring in a guest teacher we knew, have evening services each weekend night with some music and we’d invite anyone who wanted to come. We agreed to plan the whole thing, host the event, line up volunteers, and raise the funds necessary. We were so excited to do this thing.
Our plan came to a screeching halt when we were told that our plan had been swiftly and summarily rejected by our pastor and the Director of Christian Education. They would not give their stamp of approval because our guest speaker was not in our denominational silo. We were heartbroken, but it was a good lesson for me in learning how the world works, even in religious institutions.
A few weeks ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. In the message, I contrasted the major tenets of fundamentalism which are clearly seen in the words and actions of the religious leaders, teachers of the law, and Pharisees who oppose Jesus, with what Jesus was teaching and exemplifying in His ministry. Fundamentalism is not just about religion. You can find the basic tenets of fundamentalism in almost any human system including families, businesses, schools, and political groups.
In today’s chapter, Jesus enters Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate Passover. Thousands and thousands of pilgrims were there from all over. In yesterday’s chapter, Jesus clearly stated what would happen to Him in this week:
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
Jesus has never been popular with the religious leaders, but He’s spent almost all of His ministry traveling around rural, backwater regions. Now Jesus is at the center of religious, political, and commercial power. The religious leaders Jesus has encountered up to this point were local minions and middle-management. The Temple in Jerusalem was the religious C-Suite. Jesus is walking into the seat of religious power, and the first thing He does is to piss them off by causing a riot in the Temple’s lucrative money-changing operation. If you want to make racketeers angry, threaten their cash flow.
Jesus is dealing with a fundamentalist religious system. Like all fundamentalist systems, these religious leaders have an unwavering attachment to the irreducible belief that they are God’s appointed rulers of God’s chosen people, and they have absolute, unquestionable authority over everyone and everything in their religion. So, on the heels of this act of “domestic terrorism” Jesus perpetrated against the Temple, the religious power brokers go to find Jesus who has giant crowds surrounding Him as He teaches in the Temple courts. They watch Jesus healing people. Blind people can see. Lame people walk. Deaf people hear. The crowd is going nuts.
Then the religious power brokers hear children shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” This was the chant the people were shouting when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. At this, the religious power brokers “were indignant.”
As good religious fundamentalists, these dudes applied strict literalism to their religious dogmas and beliefs. They were more important than anything else, and the cheer “Hosanna (a form of the word “save”) to the Son of David (a moniker for the coming Messiah)” was strictly and systemically inappropriate. Only they had the power and authority to say who the Messiah was. The Messiah could only be the Messiah with their authoritative stamp of approval. Children shouting that Jesus was the Messiah threatened the entire fundamentalist system and their authoritative control.
In the quiet this morning, I just sat in the reality of that moment for a while. People are being healed. Jesus is revealing divine power no one had ever seen on Earth right in front of them. There is joy, tears of happiness, and the lives of countless individuals and families being forever changed for the good. While the religious leaders are indignant that children are shouting Jesus’ praise.
That is classic fundamentalism. “If it doesn’t exist within our established authoritative system and according to our strict, literal dogmas then it must be rejected, tossed out, and crushed as a threat.”
This brings me back to my and my friends’ hearts being crushed when the religious institution rejected and tossed out our desire to bring in a speaker for a weekend of meetings. As much as I wanted to fight the system, I learned at that moment that it was better to walk away. A fundamentalist system will go to any length necessary to protect the system. They’ll even conspire with political enemies to commit murder. Which is just what they are going to do to Jesus, and He knows it.
FWIW: Here’s the message I gave contrasting the tenets of the fundamentalist religious system of Jesus’ day with what Jesus was teaching and doing.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.