Recently we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Quite properly we hailed him as a latter-day prophet to America, a drum-major for justice, a visionary whose dream still inspires us. But I am old enough to remember our attitude toward Dr. King while he was alive. He was roundly condemned by most of us whites as a trouble-maker.
Isn't it often true that today's trouble-makers are tomorrow's heroes? Jesus said so. He criticized the most religious folks of his day, saying, "You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets'" (Matthew 23:29-30).
I have a little secret to tell you about Jesus: He was a trouble-maker. How did He make trouble? By upsetting the status-quo. Jesus did that consistently, boldly, and gloriously. And if we dare to call ourselves Christian, we must be willing to make trouble too, in the right way, at the right time. If we do that, not everybody will like us. In fact, Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you . . . Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" (Luke 6:22-23).
In order to see Jesus the trouble-maker in action, turn with me to John 2:13. Let me set the scene for you. Jerusalem was in the middle of its biggest annual holiday — Passover. Passover was the week-long celebration of the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery some 1800 years earlier. Every Jewish adult male living within twenty miles of the city was required to come to Passover. Jews all over the world wanted to be there, and thousands of them came. Just imagine over two million people jammed into a city no larger than downtown Memphis, about ½ mile wide and three miles long.
In the center of the city was an awesome temple which covered a space about the size of the FedEx Forum and adjacent parking areas. During the week of Passover, every Jewish male must offer an animal or bird sacrifice. Most of the Jews, especially those living some distance from Jerusalem, cannot very well bring their cow or sheep with them. So, they prefer to buy an animal or bird in Jerusalem. But guess what! The Jewish authorities who control the temple have sold exclusive franchises for selling these creatures. And the markup is at least 60 percent.
In addition, the Jewish authorities had another money-making scheme. Every Jewish male was required to pay a temple tax. Surely you did not think that taxes were a modern idea. The tax on each Jewish male was equivalent to two days' wages. Let's just call it $200. That's a pretty stiff tax. And, the Temple authorities required that it be paid in local currency, no foreign money. That made it necessary to have money-changers present. The Temple authorities sold exclusive franchises for this, too. The money changers charged about $100 to change foreign money into local currency. No telling what the kickback was to the Temple authorities. We do know that 28 years later, when the Romans conquered Jerusalem and raided the temple treasury, they found the equivalent of $10 million there.1 The temple rackets were almost as profitable as Saddam's "oil for food" scandal.