I have heard it said that Jesus had nothing to do with politics. For me, this is like claiming Jesus never took in a breath of air.
In fact, every time Jesus made comments about Temple leadership, he was talking politics.
In the Old Testament, Exodus, Chapter 29, it says that God established the position of High Priest — to be of the lineage of Aaron, and a lifelong position.
However, under Roman rule, Herod the Great took control of this situation. He decided on his own that he would determine who would hold the position of High Priest and for how long. As such, it became a political appointment.
During Herod’s reign, he first bestowed the position upon a man named Ananelus (Ananel). He hardly seemed qualified. The people must have been dumbfounded by the selection forced upon them. The Jewish historian Josephus describes Ananelus as “an obscure priest out of Babylon.”
Perhaps on a whim, Herod then replaced Ananelus with a 17-year old named Aristobulus III. Just how insulting would this have been to the Jewish people? Another under-qualified choice and obvious slap in the face.
Within a year, however, Herod did not like the direction the teen was taking. He had him murdered and placed Ananelus back into the position, according to Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15.
After Herod’s death, the process continued.
Every time Jesus entered the Temple, spoke, healed and ministered, he entered the political realm. God’s own will (High Priests from the line of Aaron) had been usurped. As such, should Jesus have said nothing about this evil? On the contrary, he challenged it head-on.
In Jesus’ day, the High Priests were Annas (retired) and Caiaphas (active). These Roman appointees were challenged by Jesus. In turn, they pushed back and saw to it that Jesus was put to death.
The corruption trickled down. Long-established laws seemed inconvenient and were not applied when it came to fast-tracking Jesus’ execution.
His trial was a sham. From the Jewish Talmud, we learn that the ruling Sanhedrin was not to meet at night, on the eve of a festival (such as Passover), or have a single day to determine capital punishment. The complete list of laws broken was much longer. They didn’t care. Jesus needed to die.
Thankfully, Jesus was never an earthly politician, but he did have a lot to say about the corrupt political process of his day that (seemingly) won out.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.