What if Jesus walked the world today?

The Temple in Jerusalem also functioned as a major bank or premier financial institution.

Aug 29, 2020

By Anil Netto
"Where would we find him? At the centre of power – or on the fringes?

How would social media react to him? Some might follow him, others would call him a charismatic hoax.

Even his miracles  — walking on water, raising the dead, etc — would be thoroughly analysed. Would he be dismissed by many as an illusionist extraordinaire?

Others would search for his family roots – and if his family seemed ordinary, ask how he could be the Son of God? “Isn’t he (just) the carpenter’s son?”

And what would the present powers that be make of him? Global intelligence agencies would track his movements, perhaps haul him up for interrogation.

Would some call for his head because he threatened the existing social order?

Would his constant message of love, compassion and peace, especially for the most marginalised, threaten the existing order? Would his followers betray him?

One thing is certain: Jesus, like he did in the Gospels, would go out in search of those most marginalised by society.

He wouldn’t be out living the high life, rubbing shoulders with the rich and the famous.

He would be most uncomfortable with a system that dispossesses the poor and oppresses the most vulnerable.

He would rail against those who burden the poor, accusing them of being hypocrites for upholding the letter of religious law while neglecting the spirit of it.

God wants justice and mercy, not sacrifice, he would remind us.

He would surely condemn an economic system that concentrates wealth in the hands of the powerful and their cronies while driving others into crushing poverty.

In recent years, the financialisation of the economy has propelled global financial institu tions to the forefront, alongside transnational corporations.

This is happening at a time when labour costs have remained largely stagnant.

Instead of helping to create value or wealth, the financialisation of the economy has extracted wealth from many ordinary people. It extracts wealth from the people by promoting debt-driven consumption, ie making it easier for people to borrow so that they can consume more, even if their wages and salaries are insufficient for that kind of lifestyle. Think of the easy cash loans (with high interest rates), credit card debt, car loans and housing loans that are available to the ordinary person.

Financial institutions also encourage speculation in land by offering financing for developers to build unaffordable homes, and then providing long-term housing loans to buyers who who will be kept in debt for a generation.

Remember how Jesus railed against the money lenders in the Temple? They were the “frontliners” of a system that extracted wealth from pilgrims, many of them humble farmers, some fisherfolk, casual estate workers and the “expendables” at the bottom of the social ladder – and not just at the Temple, even beyond.

And who benefited from that wealth? The religious fat cats, the local aristocratic class and their Roman overlords, along with the wealthy merchant class. They lived comfortably while indulging in mega-projects, building expensive infrastructure for the Empire, and accumulating  land, as peasants fell into debt.

Most ordinary people lived in the countryside, and there was hardly a middle class to speak of. New cities like Sepphoris and Tiberias in Galilee, alongside Jerusalem further away, were the centres for the collection of  taxes from the peasants and others living in the more rural areas. These places also housed the debt archives. One bad harvest and many peasants would be driven to destitution, losing even their land.

The Temple in Jerusalem also functioned as a major bank or premier financial institution.

It stored a great deal of money raised from taxes, offerings and donations, and its large storeroom housed gold, other lavish gifts and private valuables for safe-keeping. Indeed, it was the major centre of a local and imperial tax system – a provincial tribute centre of a system of domination. It stored both Roman and priestly taxes – and some of this wealth could be tapped into by the wealthy to lend money to the poor who were about to lose their land.

In this way, the Temple was effectively draining wealth away from the rural people. To top it all, the high priestly class was seen as extremely wealthy, corrupt and greedy, indulging in nepotism and oppression. In short, they loved money and commercial interests more than they did the God of justice and compassion.

As in the new Romanised towns in Galiliee, the Temple in Jerusalem or a nearby facility,  also housed the records of debt. No wonder, when the First Jewish-Roman War erupted, that one of the first things to be burned in the ensuing destruction of the Temple were the debt records.

The high priest, as the caretaker of the Temple, also supervised the treasurers and administrators of this immense wealth flowing through its coffers. With hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converging on the temple during festivals, imagine the immense wealth being extracted from them.

All this meant that the Temple was cooperating with the wealthy class in Jerusalem to exploit the poor. Not only that, it was extracting wealth from people like the poor widow who dropped her mite in the treasury, even as the property of the widows was being “devoured” by the fat cats. In contrast, the widows of the high priests were said to receive large pensions.

Worse, from Jesus’ perspective, the Temple was supposed to be the house of the Father, who is all just, loving and compassionate. That may explain why Jesus was incandescent with rage when the same Temple was being used to extract wealth from pilgrims and vulnerable peasants.

That may also explain why Jesus taught his followers to pray like this: “Forgive us our debt/ trespasses/sins, as we forgive those who are indebted to us/trespass against us/sin against us.” Imagine how such debt relief would have struck a chord with his peasant listeners in the countryside.

All this is just as relevant in our world today, as more and more people fall into crushing debt at the hands of high financiers, who are rolling in profits.

We can imagine the Father being extremely concerned about the debt burden on the poor, and the profits earned off the backs of those who are barely able to make ends meet.

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