Speak truth to power that exploits the poor
CHRISTIANS everywhere will celebrate Palm Sunday, a day when the Gospel story tells of Jesus of Nazareth being escorted by his followers into the city of Jerusalem. They waved palm branches and called him Messiah, a role he never claimed. He was a charismatic leader who spoke from his heart. He challenged the corrupt power structure that ruled Palestine, a structure that exploited and oppressed the poor in his day.
Today we have political power structures that wage wars and exploit the poor and the land. The super-rich and their multinational corporations have so much wealth and power that they control governments, manipulate political systems, and support corrupt politicians to protect and grow their wealth. They control the economy by manipulating the buying and selling of stocks, goods and commodities.
This is what Jesus of Nazareth saw in the microcosm when he came to visit Jerusalem. The Holy Temple had been turned into a market by animal dealers and money changers. This was authorized by the chief priests, Pharisees and elders who controlled the Temple, the city and the nation. It was the center of power.
Any animals offered by the people as sacrifices to win God’s favor had to be purchased from the high priests and their cronies through licensed traders in the court, no doubt at exorbitant prices. They had cornered the market and made a lot of money and were the richest people in all of Palestine. They created the demand and controlled the supply to meet it.
Jesus saw their gambling for profit and the exploitation of the poor. It was corrupt and a desecration of the House of God. He decided to challenge the rulers and their corrupt trading system, their source of wealth. He took a rope, made a whip and shouted to anyone who would listen, “God said as it is written in the scriptures, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves. (Luke 19:45; Mt 21:12-17; Mark 11:15; John 2:13-22)
Then he castigates the merchants, overturns the tables of the moneychangers and chases the merchants and their beasts from the courtyard of the Temple. His followers joined in the action, believing this to be the beginning of the revolution led by their Messiah. Coin changers were scattered everywhere. The poor rushed to pick them up, a gift from God, they said. It was rowdy; there was confusion and shouting, and shouting filled the courtyard. The temple guards dared not intervene because Jesus was very popular with the people. He set a sanction and imposed a trade embargo. He ordered his followers to block more traders crossing the yard and blocked the supply of goods at the busiest trading time of the year. The wealthy chief priests and elders were losing their wealth, and they were seething with anger and decided that Jesus of Nazareth should be killed.
Today we live in a world that is a den of thieves. The wealthy are corrupt traders and merchants, especially in the polluting and earth-destroying raw materials of coal, oil, gas and livestock. They block alternative sources of clean energy and continue to destroy the planet with global warming as they get richer than ever. They control the world trade in fossil raw materials.
There are now 15.5 million tycoons who are millionaires. Nearly 4.5 million new millionaire tycoons have emerged in recent years who have refused to share the wealth with the hungry, needy and abused people, women and children. There are now 702 million people living in extreme poverty, barely surviving on a dollar a day, and millions more in “normal” poverty eating one substantial meal a day. The wealth of the money tycoons is over $58.7 trillion. (A trillion is a million millions, or 1,000 billion.)
The 2,153 billionaire barons who rule the world of commerce have more wealth than 4.6 billion people. There is no modern Jesus of Nazareth who can sanction them all. This means that if climate destruction continues, up to 2.4 billion people will be gasping for a cup of water to drink by 2025. Merchants and traders of fossil fuels will not invest in renewable energies. They could change the world and stop global warming, but their greed for profit keeps them from doing good. Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas makes them weak to block Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, and they are paying Putin for it and allowing him to fight that war. Unlike Jesus, they cannot block the yard or the Russian gas pipeline, otherwise they would cripple their economies and cause a recession.
Judgment day for the world is approaching. A new UN climate report indicates that we have the last chance, it’s now or never, to change and get out of the carousel of fossil fuel-based lifestyles of consumer spending, lifestyles lavish waste and consumption of the Earth’s resources while billions of the poor live in poverty. Pope Francis, himself an environmental activist, said in 2019: “We have created a climate emergency, which seriously threatens nature and life, including our own…” It’s time to reflect on our modes lifestyle and how our daily choices in food, consumption, travel, use of water, energy and many other material goods are often unwise and harmful.”
Unless people elect leaders of integrity with environmental commitments to switch to renewable electricity generation, the planet will become uninhabitable, according to the UN report. Carbon dioxide emissions got worse, not better. There will be flooded cities, unbearable heat waves, gigantic storms, crop failures due to drought, sickness and disease, and the extinction of many plants and animals that will never exist again. It’s a disaster to come but there is a glimmer of hope. Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told media that “the right policies, infrastructure and technologies…to enable changes in our lifestyles and behaviors , can lead to a 40 to 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and well-being. the rich spend on renewable energy and share their wealth with the hungry and the rest of us adopt healthy plant-based diets, then there is hope for survival.