[John 2:13-25 RSV] 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he spoke of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; 24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them, 25 because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.
Good News: A Christian can get mad
We play a game called, “Rock, paper, anything.” In it you could out the three just like in rock paper scissors, but on the go you can name anything you want. For instance you could go, 1, 2, 3…“oxygen.” Now if the other person had said something like “Chuck Norris” obviously “Chuck Norris” would win because “Chuck Norris” would take oxygen and turn it into carbon dioxide. On the other hand if you said a Sherman tank, well Oxygen would rust away a Sherman tank so Oxygen would win in that case. It is an amusing game because people come up with the weirdest things to enter into the fight, and so you end up spending a good part of the game arguing with each other if Godzilla would win in a matchup with the concept of friendship. Now there had to be a couple of rules put into place. The first was you could not say, 1, 2, 3… you mom. Because everyone knowns you should never fight your mom. The second was that we had to tell people you couldn’t pick God, because God always wins. However I remember an interesting game when someone got smart and answered Jesus. The person facing off with them immediately pointed out the fact that Jesus wouldn’t fight so he would be the automatic loser. Jesus preaches things like “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies.” This means he would just give up the fight and lose. However the kid who picked Jesus argued that if he wanted to, he could really win against anyone and thus should be allowed to win the battle. It became a question of would Christ in our made up game of “Rock, paper, anything.” Act more like the savior on the cross who is killed by the Romans, even though he clearly could have won, or would he be more like the Jesus we read about today. Making whips and overthrowing tables.
I think the kids had stumbled on to something important, because we have for many years had this dichotomy when we think of Jesus. On the one hand we have this peaceful savior who turns the other cheek and is passive in the face of danger and threat, even to death on the cross, and on the other hand we have this image of Jesus with whip in hand cleansing the temple. My favorite is when you see pictures of this scene and Jesus is cleansing the temple with a whip in hand, but with such a serene look on his face that it looks like he must be drinking tea or reading a book. However that is not what we hear from John. The disciples after seeing the cleansing of the temple are immediately reminded of the prophesy, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.” In other words Jesus was really worked up. He was filled with zeal, even anger. He was emotive—he was riled up by what he saw and really got into it.
I can only imagine what the money changers and livestock owners would have felt at such a rebuke. After all here is this guy coming into their workplace and overthrowing their tables and chasing away their livestock! And that is the problem isn’t it? Instead of being the Lord’s temple it has become their place of business, the place where they make a living. Not that they came up with this scheme on their own. In Deuteronomy 14 the people are told to give their tithe—a tenth of what they make and give that part to God and all the people in the place where God chooses to dwell. So since the time of Solomon God has chosen to dwell in the temple and so people had to go to the temple and give their offerings. In fact in Deuteronomy 14 we are told that if they live too far away to get all their livestock and grain to the temple they are allowed to sell it in their home place, turn it into money and then go to where God dwells and use the money to throw a party in the name of God. So really it was a Biblically inspired business. They were just helping people fulfill God’s demands. Right? Except it clearly wasn’t just a way of helping people follow the Lord anymore, because Jesus gets mad about it and chases the moneychangers away. The problem is this biblical business has become a distraction to those very people it was supposed to help. The constant noise of animals, the mark up of 8-20 percent, the haggling of people had taken away from the gift people were bringing to God and instead made it into just another place where you were trying to find the best deal, thinking about money instead of thinking about God. Over this Jesus gets mad, he throws over tables and chases people out.
Which tells us something important—Christians can and sometimes should get mad. We are followers of Christ, right? So if the Christ, the anointed of God, the only son of the Father, got mad, we should too.
Wow, I think that is the first time I have told Christians to get mad.
So let me qualify it before we get too much farther—a Christian should get mad because at times when we look at this world and the things that are happening in it, the only responsible, the only Christian response is to get mad. For example, this week if you read any stories about the family with 13 of their kids chained in the house and thought, “That is not great parenting” in a ho-hum way then you were not empathizing with 13 kids who had their childhoods stolen from them. Thirteen souls who were brought into this world into a place of fear created by those who were supposed to take care of them! When you actually read what those parents did to their children it was hard not to get angry. It is not wrong to get mad if you are a Christian. However there are three points to be made about Christian anger.
First it is anger fueled by God’s love. That seems weird because often times we see anger and God’s love as incompatible. However they are not. If you really care about something you are more likely to have strong emotions about it, even anger. If there is no connection to a person or incident then why do we care what happens? However if your anger is fueled by God’s love it means that God’s love for something had made you care about the injustice and pain caused. Most of the time when we get angry it is not because of God’s love, it is because we feel threatened, or annoyed, or like something we expected has gone badly. However if we are motivated by God’s love how different it is; we are no longer motivated by our own good but by God’s love and care for others. That is what we see from Jesus today—he sees how the practices that have developed at the temple get in the way of people connecting with God. And he gets mad about it. We too when we see sin in this world that is stopping people from knowing God can get a little angry.
The second big thing is that you should not stay mad or sin because of your anger. Without anger we would be much less likely to take any sort of action, so anger can be good—it motivates us to do something about the situation. However, Ephesians warns, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” When we are angry we need to express it and then move on towards action. If we trap it inside and dwell on it, take it out and nurse it, then we start to have issues and fantasies of revenge. Then the devil gets his claws in us and leads us into sin. So when we are angry, and yes you have permission to, remember? When we do get angry we need something to do with that anger—I normally write a letter or e-mail expressing the full depth of my anger and frustration. Now importantly I do not send the letter while I am still consumed with rage. I write a letter, I pray about it asking for God’s guidance, and then I go back and re-read the letter. Perhaps it is filled with things that need to be said, in which case I will say them in one way or another. In conversation with the person, or perhaps in a letter or e-mail, however in my experience, I will normally write a second letter and send that, because I am not the best letter (or e-mail writer) when mad. The anger motivates us, but should not dictate our entire action. You may stop me here and say, but Jesus acted right away. Yes he did, but he is Jesus and I need a little more time to stop and think to make sure I do not sin in my anger.
The third thing is our anger should always move us towards a place where there is correction and forgiveness. If our anger doesn’t lead us to hate, if we have not nurtured the bitterness that can come from anger, then we can use the anger to start to move us towards forgiveness and reconciliation. Note how Jesus tells them right after casting them out this message about the temple being torn down and build up in three days. He is inviting the disciples and even those he threw out of the temple to grow in faith. He is saying God has chosen to dwell in a new place and your parties will no longer be at the temple but gathered around my body and my blood. Jesus gets angry but uses it as an invitation to invite them into new life with him. For us our anger should always be open to, and ready for forgiveness. Anger is not about destroying the enemy but rather proclaiming God’s love for all people.
Today as we hear about this text we know that anger is not bad and God has given it to us for a reason, instead of burying it deep we need to understand how God has put it in us for the kingdom’s use. Then we have to practice seeing things from God’s point of view so we do not sin in our anger but instead build up the kingdom.Amen.