Teaching the Gospels — "Zeal For Your House Has Eaten Me Up!"
The Temple in Jerusalem — the beating heart of Jewish spirituality. If there is one place on Earth in the 1st century where heaven and earth meet — where angels go up and down from the heavens to earth and back — it is the Temple. The week that Jesus arrives — the Feast of Unleavened Bread — might be the most popular week of the year. For affluent Jews, this would be a yearly journey, and they might even stay until Pentecost fifty days later. But for the poor, especially those Jews living in far-off Babylon or in the huge Jewish community in Alexandria, this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. They might save money for their entire lives in order to go to Jerusalem for this one festival, this one moment when they can truly participate in the Exodus experience of Israel.
So they arrive, prepared for the most spiritual moment of their lives. They’d have prayed for months, fasted and washed and sang Scripture until the moment they arrive at the Temple and enter — the Bazaar of Annas.
Annas was once the high priest — when he tired of the public work, he paid the Romans to appoint his sons-in-law to the post. Whichever of them was high priest at the time, Annas was in charge of this hybrid stockyard-circus — the Tony Soprano of 1st century Judaism –and the cash poured in like floodwaters. Here’s how the multi-stage scam works.
You bring your sacrificial lamb to the temple, or whatever animal you can afford. You take it to the officiating priest, who works for Annas. He says, “You know, that animal is just unacceptable. It is blemished — God will not be pleased. But, since you’ve already brought it, we’ll buy it from you for five dollars. Now go over there and talk to him.”
The next priest stands by a pen of animals, and he says, “Welcome, blessed child of Abraham. You look like you need an animal to sacrifice to the Most High. Please feel free to choose one of these unblemished animals, sanctified by the high priest. Oh, you want that one? That will be a hundred bucks.” You stand there, stuck. You’ve prepared all your life to worship God this way, so you reach into your moneybag and start counting out the price. That’s when stage three kicks in.
“OH!” Annas’ priest says, frowning a little. “Didn’t anyone tell you? THAT kind of money is no good here — in fact, you’d better go wash yourself again just for handling it. NONONO don’t give it to me! Take it over there!”
You look where he points, and there sits a little gaggle of men behind a table covered with different types of coins. They’re also employed by Annas, and their job is to exchange foreign money for Judean currency, at a rate of about 1.25 to 1. So for every 5 dollars you give them, you get 4 back. While you’re exchanging your money, the first priest is taking your $5 animal back to the pens, where it will be blessed and sold to the next helpless worshipper for $100!
Over all this haggling and extortion and muck and rage, Annas presides like a giant spider, sucking money out of all the helpless worshippers of the One True God.
Until the day Jesus shows up.