Jesus resisted immoral authority. He made public pronouncements against them, held protests against them and threatened their power to such a degree that he was killed. What exactly was he resisting?
Power for power's sake
Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
Jesus opposed leaders who desired positions of authority simply because of the respect and power they had. This is one of the forms of covetousness that Jesus warned against-- desiring something that you had not earned. Jesus taught that power should be given to people who show that they will use their resources or power to help those around them, not to just bolster themselves.
Accumulation of personal wealth
"Woe to you who are rich now, for you have already received your comfort!"
Jesus rejected all who kept wealth for themselves, because they were flaunting their hatred of the poor. If one has extra resources and refuses to provide them to those in need, then God rejects them as stewards of His provision. God does not provide wealth for personal use, but for community use. To misuse the resources of God, to not give generously to the poor, is to be unworthy of that stewardship.
Those who support the killing of the innocent
At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully. He sent yet another whom they killed. So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed. He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’
According to the Mosaic law, killing the innocent will infect the land. According to Psalm 82 killing the innocent is the one thing a nation can do which God will step in and destroy a government. Jesus recognized that although the leaders of his day praised the martyrs, they were actually acting like those who killed the martyrs-- retaining power at any cost, even the cost of the lives of the innocent.
Political or religious oppression of the poor
"Beware of the scribes: They devour the houses of widows. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
Jesus pointed out how the temple encourages the poorest to give their last cent to a project that will not benefit them. Thus, they are making the vulnerable homeless and hungry, while not providing for them at all. Jesus condemns all who have power-- the wealthy, lawmakers, religious and political leaders-- for using their power to be poverty pimps-- people who take from the poor for their own benefit. These, Jesus says, deserve the worst punishment.
Selecting certain groups as outcast
The Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them....” "I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance."
Jesus stepped out to welcome those whom his society refused to welcome, and then rebuked the leadership for rejecting them. Jesus' society dehumanized tax collectors and those who did not follow their purity laws, as well as the disabled, lepers, gentiles, the poor and women, considering them all unclean, and in some cases outcast from their society. Jesus rejected leadership that rejected people according to standards of ethnicity, class, sex or arbitrary purity standards.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred?"
When Jesus claimed that leadership is hypocritical, it is usually because they claim to represent the God of love and justice, but they reject love and justice in their lives, allowing themselves to be the exception of the rules they are imposing. But leadership Jesus opposed also would establish laws which give their disciples special knowledge as loopholes for justice. In this way, those with this special knowledge could avoid the obligations that those without knowledge have to follow.
Systems which perpetuate inequality
"It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers."
Jesus held a protest at the temple, because they were excluding worship for women and gentiles in order to establish support for worship for adult men. Jesus rejected this practice, even though it was approved by the high priest, the mediator of the people to God. Jesus resisted authority that made no space for all people.
Lawmakers that only create burdens for people
And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
Jesus opposed those who wrote laws for ideologies, without considering how that would negatively affect the average person. Such people become narrow-minded to their own tribe or class, ignoring how they harm society as a whole.
Because he rejected this kind of leadership, publicly and authoritatively, he was forced to carry a cross, to die as a revolutionary, as an outcast of his people, as much as a leper or traitor. Jesus, in turn, said that if we were his followers, we too would have to carry the cross of punishment from the powers that be for resisting them. If we resist authority for hating the poor and weak and for their hypocrisy, Jesus tells us we will be rejected and punished.
Amen, Lord, let it be so.