You can’t rob the poor if you’re on your knees

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

Matthew 21:12, 13

I believe America can and should have full employment for every willing and able-bodied worker.  I believe in a living wage for those who work; no one should work full-time and still live below the poverty level.  And I believe that we can have just immigration laws that do not threaten either of those aspirations.

What we cannot sustain are imbalanced trade policies like NAFTA and CAFTA that drive poor Latin American farmers off their field and onto ours as undocumented workers.  What we should not continue is the pitting of poor groups along racial lines – one group of poor workers are called lazy and others are accused of stealing  jobs from Americans and, in the meantime, both suffer.

Jesus’ entrance into the temple was a radical declaration that even religious institutions are not immune from economic exploitation.  The noxious practice of selling sacrifices at high prices to Jerusalem’s poor was an unjust economic practice that benefited the privileged few at the expense of the poor.  And what made it even more scrupulous was that this avaricious practice was being reframed as “acceptable” spiritual behavior.  How dare the poor question the greedy mischief of the temple capitalists.  To do so was to actually make their own faithfulness suspect.

On the heels of Jesus’ colt-riding inauguration, Jesus engages in one of the most debated acts of Christian nonviolence .  Jesus drives the “robbers” out of the Temple and shows some table-turning skills that would make the most Bible Belt believers blush if Jesus did the same thing in our churches.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The Greek term for house is oikos. Oikos is the root from which we get the prefix  eco- as in economy, ecology, or even ecumenism.  God’s oikos is more than a Temple.  It is the world and the fullness thereof.  For Christians, the Holy Spirit resides within each of us, so we too are God’s home.  In that light, the idea of making the oikos of God a house of prayer rather than a den of robbers takes on a whole new meaning.

As I participate in this Holy Week pilgrimage for immigrants, meditating on this Scripture while praying with my feet brings a transformative interpretation and application.  Reading the Bible while walking alongside the “damned” provides a wonderful opportunity to see Scripture come alive in authentic and awesome ways.  Furthermore, it deeply pains me to see the victims of state- (and religious) sanctioned robbery internalize their oppressions as they see themselves as “illegals” and experience great shame all because they sought to better their lives and fully realize their God-given potential.

Anytime an employer robs an immigrant (or any) worker of her rightful pay, that is an oiko-nomic theft and the employer corrupts a house of the Lord by turning it into a robber’s den.

Anytime a consumer pays a low price for a product made in a Central American sweatshop and never questions the ethics of his consumption, that is an oiko-logical and oiko-nomic travesty that shows the lack of our theological reflection and how far removed our sterile prayers are from the reality of God’s Kingdom which seeks to ensure everyone’s daily bread and that this world would reflect the values of heaven.

Globalization may be making the world flat but in the process it is also crushing the world’s poorest inhabitants and God’s creation under the weights of crippling poverty and environmental degradation.  Dehumanization of immigrants by referring to them as “illegals’, “aliens” or both is the first act of violence; whatever follows afterwards is the fruit of that legally acceptable prelude.  But the Good News is that Jesus is still entering temples; calling us to be people of prayer who have an acute sensitivity to how our practices oppress others.

When the poor are seen as commodities, we can rob them in temples and cage them in for-profit detention centers paid for by our taxes.  But when we pray with our eyes opened to injustice, we must turn over the status quo.  We must hold vigils outside the North Georgia or Stewart Detention Centers and plead with Corrections Corporation of America employees to resign and wash their hands of the culture of thievery in the temple of Pax Americana.

So as I continue to walk I will pray; but my prayers will also be accompanied with prayerful experiments of subversive shalom.  I will pray each time I make a choice that impacts our oiko-nomy or oiko-logy that I do not rob the poor immigrant, the poor American, or the poor in the two-thirds world of their dignity or their daily bread.

Do I have the courage to turn over the tables of my luxurious life to be a house of Christ-like prayer?

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