Call to Jubilee!

Third Sunday of Advent, Year B

Joy Sunday
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126, or Luke 1:47-55;
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8; 19-28
Rev. Dr. Stan G. Duncan

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The Good News of Deliverance
1     The spirit of the Lord GOD[i] is upon me,
            because the LORD[ii] has anointed[iii] me;
            he has sent me:
                   to bring good news[iv] to the oppressed,[v]
                   to bind up[vi] the brokenhearted,[vii]
                   to proclaim liberty[viii] to the captives,[ix]
                          and release to the prisoners;[x]
2                  to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor,
                          and the day of vengeance[xi] of our God;[xii]
                   to comfort all who mourn;[xiii]
3                  to provide for those who mourn[xiv] in Zion—
                   to give them a garland[xv] instead of ashes,
                          the oil of gladness[xvi] instead of mourning,
                          the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
      They will be called oaks of righteousness,[xvii]
          the planting of the LORD,[xviii] to display his glory.
4     They shall build up the ancient ruins,
          they shall raise up the former devastations;[xix]
      they shall repair the ruined cities,
          the devastations of many generations.
5      Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
             foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
6      but you shall be called priests of the LORD,
             you shall be named ministers of our God;
       you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
             and in their riches you shall glory.
7      Because their shame[xx] was double,[xxi]
             and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
       therefore they shall possess a double portion;
             everlasting joy shall be theirs.
8     For I the LORD love justice,
          I hate robbery and wrongdoing;[xxii]
      I will faithfully give them their recompense,
          and I will make an everlasting covenant[xxiii] with them.
9     Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
          and their offspring among the peoples;
      all who see them shall acknowledge
          that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.
10   I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
          my whole being shall exult in my God;
      for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
          he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
      as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
          and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11   For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
          and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
      so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
                to spring up before all the nations.




Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11


saiah 61 is a critical passage in the development of Biblical theology. As we will see below, it is strongly influenced by the seminal Jubilee passage of Leviticus 25, and it is central to the self consciousness of Jesus as portrayed by Luke in the critically important sermon of Luke 4. There is also a great deal of evidence that when Jesus (or the Gospel writers) heralded the coming of the “Kingdom (or realm) of God,” it was based on the Jubilee.
The author of what we know as Third Isaiah is otherwise unknown to us. We call him by that name only because his writings are the third of the three collections of writings in the book known as Isaiah. The breakdown is generally believed to be: First Isaiah—Chapters 1-39; Second Isaiah—40-55; and Third Isaiah—56-66.
First Isaiah was written in Judah, just before it fell and its leaders were  taken into captivity in Babylon. It contain numerous prophesies of coming disaster that would be the result of the crimes of the wealthy and royal families. Second Isaiah was written toward the end of that captivity and just before the fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Great of Persia (Oct 29th 539 b.c.e.). His writings are filled with joyous anticipation of the re-establishment of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. Finally, Third Isaiah wrote the generation after they were back in Judah again, when the cold reality of failed expectations took hold. His writing activity was probably between 537-521, and probably was active for only a few short years (Claus Westermann says it is possible that he was active for less than a year, but that seems unlikely). Chapters 60-62 form the nucleus of his writings. They form a literary unit.

This passage

he immediate occasion of the writing of this particular poem is an economic crisis brought about by the financial dealings of the wealthy returnees who used their status and wealth to grab more land and income from both their deported brothers and sisters and from those who had been left behind. They used their economic and class power to influence the application of tax and finance laws of the emerging nation to their advantage, causing huge increases in their own incomes, but also tremendous poverty in others. For example, they would make agricultural start-up loans during times of drought at exorbitant rates, which violated the Jubilee laws of Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15, but which was allowed because they could buy off courts and lawmakers in case anyone complained. If the poor borrower was not able to pay the entire amount in one year, the next year the unpaid portion would be rolled over into a second loan, thus doubling the interest rate. After two or three years of doubling and quadrupling the interests, the poor farmer was effectively bankrupt and had to give up his farm and often his freedom to the loaner.
Nehemiah 5:1-5 tells the story:
1Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish kin. 2For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many; we must get grain, so that we may eat and stay alive.” 3There were also those who said, “We are having to pledge our fields, our vineyards, and our houses in order to get grain during the famine.” 4And there were those who said, “We are having to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay the king’s tax. 5Now our flesh is the same as that of our kindred; our children are the same as their children; and yet we are forcing our sons and daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been ravished; we are powerless, and our fields and vineyards now belong to others.”
For Second Isaiah and Israel’s other theologians, the period of captivity in Babylon was God’s punishment for just this kind of oppression of the poor, and the eventual release—he believed—was God’s forgiveness.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
     that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
     that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:2, the reading for Advent 2, Year B)
They had believed that God’s act of granting them release would bring about a spiritual change in attitude toward God and toward others. In return for their redemption through God, Israel was to become a model, a light of hope to the rest of the nations. “Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). “It was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’” (Psalm 126:2b, the psalmic response for today).
But that great conversion did not happen. To the dismay of this anonymous prophet (and others), many of the more powerful exiles returned to Israel to begin the same kind of oppressive practices that led to the exile fifty years earlier.
Isaiah, speaking for God, characterizes them this way:
     The way of peace they do not know,
         and there is no justice in their paths.
     Their roads they have made crooked;
         no one who walks in them knows peace.
                                                        (Isaiah 59:8)
In the first section of today’s reading, the prophet envisions himself as receiving an “anointing”[xxiv] from the Spirit of God to go to those who are poor and oppressed and to bring them “good news”[xxv] of the establishment of the “year of God’s favor.” He is going to all of those who were pushed to the sidelines and passed by in the euphoria over the booming economy. The “good news” he brings is that the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonian army, will be rebuilt:
     They shall build up the ancient ruins,
         they shall raise up the former devastations;
         they shall repair the ruined cities,
     the devastations of former generations. (61:4) 
But what is most startling is that the “they” of this passage—the ones who will be doing the rebuilding (and receiving the glory)—will not be the prophet nor even God, but instead this particularly abused group within the larger Israelite community: the oppressed, the broken hearted, the captives, the prisoners and the mourners. “The upon bring good news to the oppressed....and They shall build up the ancient ruins....” (vv. 1a, 4a emphasis added). Those who have been pushed to the margins will become the center in the newly created society.

A Few Words On Terminology:

n the prophet’s list of recipients of the good news, the word the nrsv translates as “oppressed” (Hebrew, anau) has two meanings. One is “weak” or “powerless,” and the other is “poor” or “economically oppressed,” and it is rendered both ways in the Hebrew Scriptures. In ancient Israel, the vast majority of the population was poor. Whenever they are described as such, it is almost always to make the point that their poverty is not caused by fate or vocation, but by an abuse of power. Poverty that requires mention is poverty caused by economic oppression. Therefore, this word has a clear political tone to it. The kjv translates it “meek” which gets at the powerlessness, but doesn’t indicate its cause. The nrsv has “oppressed,” which gets at the political tone, but not the poverty. The rsv includes both, with “afflicted” which implies that the powerlessness came from others in power, and then adds “poor” in a footnote.
“Liberty to the captives” is also politically charged. In this context it refers not to criminal prisoners (and probably not political prisoners, because they had not been back from Babylonia long enough to acquire any), but to poor people who have been enslaved for their inability to make payments on usurious debts. The phrase “proclaim liberty” (Hebrew: dêror) is a technical term from the Leviticus Jubilee provisions for the cancellation of debts, return of slaves and property stolen or acquired immorally by the rich (there was seldom a "moral" acquiring of property in those days), and a return to the world as God intended in the original creation.
You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land.
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. (Lev. 25:8-10; cf. Jer. 34:8, 15, 17)
Also, most scholars believe that the phrases, “year of the Lord’s favor,” and “the day of vengeance” (better, “rescue”)[xxvi] also refer to the biblical Jubilee. They point to an age to come when Yahweh’s original intention for the world would be realized. The ancient and equitable system of communal land and property ownership would be re-instated (cf. Jer. 34:8, 15, 17). The poor would finally get their economic rights and powers within the larger community and God’s peace would once again prevail.
However, the political/economic/religious powers never allowed an authentic enactment of the laws of Jubilee. In their view, the “world as God intended,” could never be allowed to get in the way of profits. Therefore prophets like Third Isaiah increasingly began to sprinkle their oracles with phrases that got at the sense of the Jubilee without actually using the dangerous and politically charged word. (Perhaps we could also say with Reinhold Niebuhr that just because a cause is difficult, it doesn’t mean that it is something unworthy of giving our lives to.)
The upshot of all of this is that the mission for which the prophet has been anointed is to bring the “good news” to the oppressed and broken hearted that a new age of Jubilee is coming, and that they will be the ones who will rebuild the new society which embodies it. They will be comforted, given the oil of gladness and mantles of praise and will be called oaks of righteousness. And they will also be the ones to recover the lost glory of Jerusalem. This is a dramatic reversal of fortune for those who returned to Israel expecting to be treated like royalty.
Verses 5-7 continue to shower accolades upon the restored outcasts of v. 1, though the lectionary reading skips them going on to vss. 8-9, where God begins to speak. However, there are (at least) two things about these two verses which might be of help to preaching. First, in v. 6 the prophet announces that "you shall be called priests of the LORD, you shall be named ministers of our God." You will be different from the other stratified and hierarchical nations. You shall all be equal in your access to God. The promise of the covenant given to Moses on Mt. Sinai that "you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" is about to become true.
Second, in v. 7, the prophet notes that because their shame was double, now their portion of everlasting joy will be double. This is a direct contrast to the phrase used in last week's lection that their agony in Babylonia was double their sins. You have suffered twice as much as you should have, therefore your redemption or rescue will be twice as sweet. The New English Translation notes interprets this to mean they each will receive twice their original portion of land, though that cannot be determined for certain from the text itself.
In vv. 8-9 (where the lectionary returns to the text) the prophet says that God loves justice and hates wrongdoing, and will pay them for all of their years of unrewarded labor. This will be an amazing extension of the covenant which will be so grand that “their descendants shall be know among the nations”! These people, poor and despised by the powers that be, have become the special chosen ones of God, the light to the nations which was envisioned originally for the nation itself. This is a radical reorientation of society’s values and hierarchy. Only a God of the poor and oppressed would think of such a thing. And only justice made flesh in the poor and oppressed can make it real.
In vs. 10-11, the prophet closes the passage by bursting into song, celebrating what God is doing through him. With his role as the anointed one to bring this news to the poor, his very clothes and robe become righteousness and garlands, which are as glorious as the clothes and jewelry worn by a bride and groom on their wedding day. With his message (and the people’s response) as sure as seeds grow in a garden, God’s plan for righteousness and praise will shine forth before all the nations.
This is an excellent Advent passage, because it offers authentic hope for those broken and excluded from proper society, and it is mixed with personal responsibility: if the prophet does not “bring” the good news, it won’t get shared, and if the renewed people do not claim their new role, it won’t get taken. It is with promise, expectation, and personal responsibility that we as Christians wait for the claims of the coming (and coming again) of the Anointed One.

[i] “Lord GOD,” 'Adonai Yahweh. Jews display reverence for the name "Yahweh" by substituting the proper title “Lord” or Adonai. English translations follow that convention, but in this passage Adonai actually precedes Yahweh, which unless avoided creates in English, "Lord LORD." Could be read as “Lord Yahweh.” Note that the use of small caps generally alerts the reader that the underlying word is "Yahweh." In this case that is applied to the substitute word, "GOD." In 1b, Yahweh occurs again and convention is restored using "LORD."
[ii]Lord,” Yahweh h'/hy.
[iii] “Anoint” (mashiach, çLÛîÈ). To rub with oil. To consecrate or send. Related to noun, Messiah, the “anointed one,” the sent one. Related to the Greek, ÷ñßù , chrioô , from which "Christ" and "Christen" are derived. Compare with the christening (anointing) when one begins a new life in a faith community or the christening of a ship when it is sent off on its first journey. Here "anoint" and "send" are parallel with each other.
[iv] “Good news” bâśar, øNÛa˜. To bear or bring news, especially good news (or "tidings"). To announce, preach, tell. The term “Good News” (“good tidings”) is found also in 40:9 (the Hebrew scripture reading for the second Sunday of Advent, year B), 52:7, but only here does it refer to the poor, and only here is it the speaker (the prophet) who brings it. Bringing Good News is usually the task of a runner for a king or dignitary, proclaiming the arrival of the dignitary. Also, importantly, in its biblical usage, it is usually “proclamation of an event which has already come about.” Here the prophet’s words themselves will bring about liberty to the captives (etc.) This is a critical distinction. (Old Testament Library: Isaiah 40-66, Klaus Westermann (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), p. 366).
[v] “Oppressed,” anaw. The kjv has "afflicted." The lxx has "poor." The term could refer to both (poor in circumstances and poor in spirit), and the term was often used with the meaning of "meek" and "pious."
[vi] "Bind up" (Lá—ç˜, chaòbash). To wrap tightly, but also to heal. Cf. Psa. 147:3)
[vii] “Brokenhearted;” From Shabar, r;b'v break, destroy, break in pieces, break down, hurt, torn, crush.
[viii] “Liberty,” r/r.D derôr, from a root of "to move rapidly." This is understood by many commentators to not refer to Israel in the exile, but to debt prisoners. See Isaiah 58:6, “Loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free….”
[ix] “Liberty to the captives”; “does not mean the exiles (who have already been liberated by this time), but, as in 58:6, people put in prison for debts and the like” (Westermann, p. 366).
[x] “[Release to the] Prisoners” (pêqach-qowach; j/qAj;q.P, ). Opening (of eyes), wide. Can also be translated as “light.” The lxx has "blind," which is the translation cited in Luke's "recovery of sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18).
[xi] “Day of vengeance” (cf. also, Isa. 34:8; 63:4; Jer. 46:10; and “day of Yahweh”: Isa. 2:12; 13:6; Joel 2:1ff.). Interpreters Bible (p.710) says the translation of the Hebrew í÷®ðˆ, naòqaòm than as “vengeance” is "dubious" and prefers "requital." Chris Haslem prefers “rescue.” ( It follows a Ugaritic root which means to avenge, but also “rescue” or "requite." Perhaps in rescuing, God offers vindication. The key, in Westermann's words is that the word doesn’t have the “sense of God’s taking vengeance on Israel’s foes....the word is to be taken in the sense of ‘for’ and not ‘against’ restoration; as it is also true of the original meaning of ‘revenge’ the days before Israel became a state: ‘the restoration of wholeness’” (Westermann, p. 367. Cf. J. Morgenstern, “Jubilee, Year of,” Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 2 (Nashville: Abington, 1962), p. 1002. Note that the line is missing in Jesus' reading of this text.
[xii] Note the equal status of “year” and “day,” indicating that no particular event or time is in mind, but what is envisioned is a new era. The Jubilee has become unhooked from a specific fifty-year event, and has become a vision of what will be in God’s time. (Westermann, p. 367).
[xiii] “Comfort to all who mourn,” 2nd Isaiah particularized the mourners, as in 40:1. 3rd Isaiah generalizes them, universalizes them. This difference is common between the two writers.
[xiv] "To provide for those who mourn." "The line may be a marginal variant. It disturbs the meter," (IB, p. 711). Note that it could be referring to those who are mourning in Israel or to those who mourn for Israel.
[xv] "Garland" (øàÅtÀ, peeòr).  From the same root as øTtÈ, paòar; to "gleam" or "embellish"; "beautify" or "glorify." A symbol for joy or festivity.
[xvi] “Oil of gladness” (ïNNÜ, sñaòsñoòn ). Cheerfulness; specifically welcome.  The kjv and New English Translation have “Oil of Joy.”
[xvii] “Oak of righteousness”: See 44:14 for becoming like an oak as a symbol for spiritual strengthening.
[xviii] “The planting of the Lord”: For this image, see also 60:21 and Jeremiah 17:8.
[xix] “They shall raise up the former devastations”; NET has, “and the formerly desolate places they will raise up.”
[xx] “Their shame,” Heb: Your shame.
[xxi] “Double," "double portion,” a reward to replace the double punishment that was their time in Babylonia. See 40:2. The NET understands "portion" to refer to land they received when they returned to Israel.
[xxii] “Wrongdoing” (äìÈòÊ, €oòlaòh). Feminine active participle of the verb, €aòlaòh, “to ascend.” A step (as in ascending). Used usually in reference to a holocaust (as going up in smoke), and therefore to “burnt offering.” The kjv translates this phrase (with some justification) “I hate robbery for burnt offering,” as does the nrsv note.
[xxiii] “Everlasting covenant.” In Genesis 9:16, God tells Noah that the rainbow is a reminder of the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures. In Genesis 17:7, God makes such a covenant with Abraham and his offspring. In Genesis 17:19, God promises a covenant with Isaac and his progeny. David. In his death speech (2 Samuel 23:5) recalls the everlasting covenant God made with him when he wished to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:13, 16, 24-26, 29). See also 54:9-10; 55:3; 59:21; Jeremiah 32:40; 50:5; Psalm 105:10.
[xxiv] mashach, from which we get the term “messiah” [Hebrew: meshiach], cf. 1 Sam 10:1. See on note c above.
[xxv] bäsar, Note the word's use also in last week's Advent 2 Year B reading, Isaiah 40:9.
[xxvi] í÷®ðˆ, naòqaòm “requital,” or “rescue” are better than “Vengeance.” It follows a Ugaritic root which means to avenge someone, in the sense of rescuing them. See above on note l, "Day of vengeance."

The Talents and the “One Percent”

Proper 28, Year A

Matthew 25:14-30

ost of what we would think of today as commercial trade or “investing” in first century Palestine was done by the wealthy one percent—meaning the royalty the and the priests (who took in and spent investments held in the temple, and then traded with them for foreign goods and currency). 
There were two common ways that one with sufficient capital could make a profit from investing. The first was by lending to those involved in the currency exchange business in the Temple. When Jews or others came to Jerusalem from other parts of the world, they needed to change their international currency into the local Jewish currency, and the exchange tables served this purpose. International Jews in particular (and there were many) needed to make a sacrifice in the Temple, but typically only carried Roman currency, with the Emperor’s picture on it, so they exchanged it for local currency, which did not. A wealthy person’s investment in this, from fees, skimming, and exaggerating the exchange rate, could be very high. 
The second form of investment was in mortgage loans or bridge loans to small farmer families struggling to stay afloat in the declining first century Palestinian economy. Most loans made huge returns on their investment because interest rates were so astronomically high by today’s standards—anywhere between twenty-five to fifty percent. (It’s worth noting in this regard that one of the causes of the “lost decade” of the 1980s, for poor and developing countries of the global south, was that the interest charged by banks in the “First World” on loans to countries in the “Third World” rose sometimes to as high as twenty-seven percent.) The purpose for loans then, was primarily for the purpose of getting borrowers in over their heads and then being foreclosed on and losing their property.  They would then either become tenants on what had been their own property, homeless, or join the ranks of the growing number of bandits or revolutionary militias.

Much of the income from these loans was deposited in the Temple to keep the rich from having to pay a Roman tax on it, and to allow them to claim they didn’t have any money on hand when the Sabbath and Jubilee-debt-cancellation years rolled around (a law called the “Prosbul” allowed them put their money in the Temple just before the seventh year, to claim they no longer could afford to cancel the debt). And then that money was often invested elsewhere by the priests who were the financial overseers of the bank’s holdings. There are ancient inscriptions that show Priests investing in trade and commodities using this “tax-sheltered” money drawn from mortgages taken out by poor families in rural Palestine. That’s probably one of the reasons why Jesus decided to occupy the Temple and set up a temporary boycott of currency trading there as his first official act in Jerusalem. And it is clearly the reason why—when the revolution finally came—the angry 99 percenters stormed the temple and burned the mortgage papers that had been held there.

It was also common, as this parable indicates, for wealthy lenders to assign the dirty tasks of originating the loans, collecting on them, and then repossessing the properties, to their servants. It was considered dishonorable for nobility to expand their wealth, and since servants were a class without honor, they were given the job. That gave the lenders the ability to deny any knowledge of wrong-doing if an evicted family’s misery became too public.[1] The story of the widow and the unjust judge is similar to this (Luke Luke 18:1-8, Proper 24 C).
It’s also important to add here that the servants who were entrusted with inflicting this pain on people didn’t do it for monetary gain (because they weren’t paid anything), but instead they did it for the power and prestige they received for successfully managing the company. As the parable says, if they were successful in little, they would be given power and responsibility over much. The lead character in the parable of the Dishonest Steward plays a similar role. Also reflected here is that interest rates were often as high as fifty percent, so it would not be at all unlikely for a steward of a powerful finance family to double or even triple an investment.

In this story, servants one and two clearly went along with this insidious system and were rewarded handily for their efforts. The first put his money into trading (ergázomai, probably in commodities because they were the most frequently traded at the time), and the second in interest-bearing investments (kerdainō, like the loans and currency-trading mentioned above), but both made a healthy profit.

But the third person (often the hero in three-part tales), following the Torah that forbade lending money at interest (Exodus 22.20-30), believed that the system was corrupt, that the leader was evil, that money should not be used as a weapon against homes and farms and families, and he refused to participate. He accused the wealthy one percenter of being a “Sklēros,” someone who is violent, rough, offensive, and thoroughly intolerable. He accuses him of doing nothing on his own to gain his wealth: he doesn’t plant, he doesn’t distribute (diaskorpízō) his wealth, but just by collecting interest on it from the misery of people who were sucked into the downwardly spiraling system.

So he denounces the crime, buries the money, and in the end he gets crucified for his actions. It is telling that he put the money in the ground, which is ultimately owned by God (Leviticus 25:23-28), and it is also where Judas hid his “blood money” when he realized that it had just caused his friend’s death.

So, what are the preaching themes and possibilities in this story? There are two traditional readings of this story. The first is that the (evil, greedy, wicked) Master is Jesus, who left us for a while and will come again at the end of time for an ominous reckoning of how we have used or misused our “talents” (mis-interpreted as skills and gifts). That’s an odd role for Jesus, but it seems to have survived thousands of years of puzzled looks during children’s sermons. A second traditional reading is that God is the (evil, greedy, wicked) Master who does the judging, and who is just as nasty in the end. Making God the “heavy” somehow doesn’t feel any better than making it Jesus, but there you have it. The way that my pastors as a child got around this was to ignore that the third servant got tossed into outer darkness, and gave heroic examples of the non-squandering of our “talents.”

Perhaps, instead, this is not an allegory. Perhaps Jesus was simply saying that if you stand up and denounce an immoral, evil, system, you may have to pay for it. Perhaps Jesus was saying that sometimes—like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 1–3)—the right thing to do is to offer up your life as a bulwark against injustice, even if it means losing that life.

Perhaps the message of the story is simply that the story is true, and that if you don’t like it, what are you going to do about it?

Notes and comments on this post:

[in response to someone who said that the storming of the temple was Jesus’ way of rejecting the entire corrupt system.]
That’s sort of true and sort of not true. It is probably true that the incident as written reflects Jesus personal desire to reject the entire corrupt system, but to be fair historically, only a shrinking number of NT scholars today believe the story actually happened. It may reflect his passions but probably not his deeds.
Most, I think, believe the story was created by his followers some years after he died as a way of fleshing out his occasional statements of distaste for the Temple. But it’s hard to see how it could actually have happened. There were as many as two to three hundred thousand people in and tightly packed around the temple that day, because of the festival, and each of the money changers had armed body guards standing next to them. The odds of his breaking through the crowds and overturning all of the dozens and dozens of tables are not large. And assuming he could have gotten two or three tables turned over, the hired heat would have ushered Jesus into a premature crucifixion with Roman swords purchased with the proceeds of the tables. And assuming he could overpower all of the changers and all of the guards and all of the people fighting in their defense, the crowds were so dense that it’s unlikely that the rest of the people, only twenty to thirty feet away, would even notice. The idea of his driving out hundreds of thousands of people, many armed and powerful, is difficult to imagine, that is short of a major miracle, and none of the Gospels hint that there was one.
I’m just sayin’...

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Interesting observations Stan. 
On the other hand . . .Borg and Crossan certainly imply in their book The Last Week that they regard this as an actual incident.  (How ironic is it that I’m the one quoting Jesus Seminar scholars on this list?)  Anyway, they seem to consider it an act of civil disobedience, an act of protest that they compare to someone breaking into a recruiting office and pouring blood on the draft card files.  They say that that action wouldn’t bring an abrupt halt to the Pentagon.  It’s just an act that makes a statement of protest.  They don’t say this, but someone else might argue that Jesus did overturn some money changers tables, did upset some dove-sellers and prevent some in the immediate area from carrying stuff through the temple, but that the gospel accounts are exaggerations of the scale of his protest.
What I find very interesting in Mark’s account is the detail that on Sunday afternoon/evening, Jesus went into the temple and looked around and didn’t do anything.  That is consistent with the idea that his action was a planned demonstration, not done on impulse.  He went in on Sunday afternoon to reconnoiter for Monday’s action. 

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Presuming that we follow this line, that the third servant was actually standing up to the “powers” of his world, what do we do with the line where he says, “And I was afraid, and I buried the money”?

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About his “fear” I’m not certain, but he could have been simply stating his fear of the harsh ruler, but deciding to stand up to him anyway. Without doing violence to the Greek, the verse could just as easily be translated something like “Even though I was afraid of you, I still went and hid your money.”
On the burying of the money, there are a number of possibilities. The most likely, as I said below, was that according to Leviticus, the land belonged to God and the third servant returned the money to the land, that is, to God. Another possibility, from the Inter-Varsity Bible Background Commentary, is that burying the money was considered the moral way to handle ill-gotten gains. People in the first century believed in “limited goods,” meaning there was only a set amount of things in the universe, so if you made interest on something you did it by cheating or stealing or oppressing someone to get it. The “moral” thing, then, would have been to bury it or hide it (as in Luke’s version of the story). By taking the money out of the economy, he was in effect protecting those who would have been harmed by the money. According to Malina and Rohrbaugh’s Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Rabbinic law taught that burying money to preserve it was considered the honorable thing to do and was the safest way to care for somebody else’s money.[2] Possibly, then, we could say that he was the only moral person in the group. And he was the one who was punished for being moral.
Incidentally, this is just one of many interpretations of the parable that do not follow the standard, “use your ‘talents’ that God has given you” line. David Harrington (Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew) believes that Matthew intended it as a rebuke of elements within the church who were resistant to change and wanted to do things the old way and wanted to give up and return to the old pre-Jesus days. Those who trace it back to Jesus recognize something similar, but believe Jesus was targeting people within Judaism who resisted working hard to bring in the new Realm of God. Both of those are possible, but different from my interpretation. The fact that with this interpretation the parable recommends the same trade and investment policies that impoverished much of Galilee makes preaching it this way a bit difficult for me, but it is not impossible and I will probably reference it in my sermon tomorrow.

Textual notes on Matthew 25:14-30
The Parable of the Talents
14“For it is as if[3] a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves[4] and entrusted[5] his property[6] to them; 15to one he gave five talents,[7] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.[8] Then he went away.[9] 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded[10] with them, and made five more talents. 
17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made[11] two more talents.[12] 
18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 
19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 
20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing[13] five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 
21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things,[14] I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’[15] 
22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’
23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 
24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man,[16] reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 
26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

[1] Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), p. 149.
[2] Jeremias (Parables, p. 61) says that buying money was the best hedge against theft. That meant that you were free from liability for it. On the other hand, just hiding it (as with Luke) made you still responsible for it in case something happened.
[3] “For it is as if…” (JWsper gar) What is the it in the sentence? “It is as though a man….” This doesn’t fit well as an introduction. The use of gar gives the sense that this is a continuation of the previous teaching, as in, that about which I was referring before, is as if…” But it doesn’t quite read as though that is the case. John Nolland (The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005], p. 1014) believes that this introductory phrase was intended for the previous parable about the bridesmaids. David Harrington (Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 1 [Collegeville, Minn: The Liturgical Press, 1991], p. 352) suggests that Matthew intended the introduction to the chapter (“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this...”) to encompass both the parable of the maidens and this parable. That is, of course, assuming that Jesus intended this parable to be about the Kingdom/realm, which both (and others) also believe, but that is not totally clear to me that that is the case.
[4] “Slaves” (doúlos; gen. doúlou, masc. noun.). Historically translated “servant,” and more recently “slave,” is actually somewhere in the middle. Not the beaten down image we have of slaves, but not free to find employment elsewhere either. “Generally one serving, bound to serve, in bondage” (Complete Word Study Dictionary
[5] “Entrusted” (παραδίδωμι, paradidomi, vb.,aor.) “‘Entrusted’ - give, deliver to. May be stretched to ‘entrust’ although this is reading into the parable. ‘Put them in charge of.”’ TEV” (Pumpkin). “To hand over to or to convey something to someone, particularly a right or an authority—‘to give over, to hand over.’ ὅτι ἐμοὶ παραδέδοται καὶ ᾧ ἐὰν θέλω δίδωμι αὐτήν ‘because this has been handed over to me and I give it to whomever I wish’ Lk 4:6” (Louw-Nida).
[6] “Property” (ὑπάρχοντα, hupárchonta; pres. part. neut. pl. of hupárchō, ὑπάρχω [to exist]). Property, but more generally, “Things which constitute someone’s possessions, goods.” Translating it here as “property” leads one to think in terms of land or buildings, while in the parable it means it as something of value that can be traded or invested, “Talents.” Noland suggests “something like ‘[business] capital’” (John Nolland, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005], p. 1014).
[7] “Talents” (talanton, τάλαντον, noun neuter from tlá  [n.f.]). To bear, "talent," a weight, a unit of measurement. Five thousand gold coins", TEV. In New Testament times a talent was a unit of exchange which varied in its value. The word can be used of money or silver or a weight of between 26 and 36 kilos of copper, silver or gold. So, it is a variable amount of money. We tend to think of a talent as a skill, but we draw this notion from the parable, not the meaning at the time."
[8] “His (own) ability” (ἰδίαν δύναμιν, idian dunamin). “Lit., his own or peculiar capacity for business. For some reason, idian, “own,” is seldom translated. The KJV has “His several ability.”
[9] The NRSV leaves out εὐθέως, immediately.
[10] “Traded” (ἐργάζομαι, ergázomai; imperf. ). “To trade, to make gains by trading, ‘do business’” (Thayer). Nolland suggests, “He worked with them (the talents)” meaning he actually put in some effort. “The slave and not just the money is on the job” (p. 1015).
[11] “Made” κερδαίνω, kerdainō, vb.). To make or gain or earn by way of interest. To increase wealth by investments usually in land. Notice that both the five and ten talent people made money through interest. But the first did it through trading in goods and the second just made it, presumably by collecting interest off of investments.
[12] “Though the second slave has less capital to work with, he makes the same percentage gain” (Nolland, p. 1015).
[13] “Came forward, bringing…” It has the sense of being a ceremonial presentation. Luke’s version says “your “Minas have earned ten minas.” Matt here says, “I have made five more talents.” Real pride in his work.
[14] See above on the value of a Talent. Only an extremely rich person could call this amount “little”
[15] “Enter into the joy of your master” (tēn charin tou kuriou sou). “The word chara or joy may refer to the feast on the master’s return. So also in Matt. 25:23” (Archibald Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament).
[16] “Harsh” (sklērós, σκληρός, adj., nom., masc.). A Harsh , stern, and unyielding person. Luke’s version of this parable has austere (austerōs), someone who might be inclined to impose an “austerity program” on indebted property owners. “Pertaining to being hard and demanding in one’s behavior—‘hard, severe, demanding.’ ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας. (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 1:756.). “to harden, dry up. Dried up, dry, hard, stiff; of the voice or sounds as hoarse or harsh; of things as hard, tough, not soft. In the pl., tá sklē, the hard things, stands in contrast to tá malaká, the soft things, or with a neg. connotation, the effeminate (1Co_6:9). Also from skéllō (n.f.): skoliós, crooked, warped. (The Complete Word Study Dictionary, (AMG International, Inc.: Chattanooga, TN: 1992, Rev. ed., 1993).