We are faced in this Sunday’s Gospel reading from St. John with a very angry Jesus. This is not an image of Jesus that we are often comfortable with, and one that, quite frankly, many Christians would simply wish to ignore.
In this passage which recounts Jesus ‘driving’ the merchants and money changers from the Temple, we see a part of Jesus’ ministry in action which does not immediately call to mind ‘love’ or ‘peace’ or ‘charity’.
We see anger; but it is not a simple, self-centered anger. This is not someone who is angry because he didn’t get his way, or didn’t get a promotion, or lost a contest. This is not someone who is involved in a political statement becoming angry because others aren’t listening to him.
This is an outrage at the ‘taking’ over of the sacred and the holy by self interest and corruption. This is what is called ‘righteous anger’ and it is displayed in the person of Jesus. ‘Righteous’ anger is not the same thing as a blind rage, or a hurtful, destructive pettiness. ‘Righteous’ anger is that response to injustice and evil in the world. ‘Righteous’ anger is not judgmental, saying this person or that person is good or bad; ‘righteous anger’ responds to actions that go against the laws of God, against God’s will, against God Himself.
For example, we have heard recently of some terrible acts committed in various parts of the world by those who have power, exercising it brutally over people who have little or no power; whether it be in the Middle East or in Africa or Asia; we hear of terrible crimes committed by individuals against the frail or weakest little members of our society; and our response, quite justifiably, is anger.
We feel anger at the inhumane ways in which some people are treated; we feel anger at the way the strong oppress the weak; and as Catholics, we feel anger when our Church’s teachings are twisted and manipulated – when the Body of Christ is attacked, persecuted and tormented.
That type of anger can actually be quite constructive though; it brings about justice; it can serve charity or love; ultimately it can bring about change. And that change can be a hopeful thing.
St. Augustine wrote in the 4th century, “Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are Anger and Courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”
When the Temple at Jerusalem was established, it was meant to be a place of worship- a place where the glory of God could dwell among His people, in the Holy of Holies. In this second Temple, rebuilt by Herod, Jesus would have, as a boy, travelled on pilgrimage to offer sacrifice and to pray, as did all devout Jews. There was even a large portion of this second temple for all people of the world to pray to the one True God – Gentiles as well as Jews- and this area was called the Court of the Gentiles.
Scholars tell us though, that over a period of time, those people whose business was vital to the working of the Temple – those who exchanged coins and sold animals to be used in the rites of sacrifice – moved their stalls and places of business from outside the entrances of the Temple, and gradually began to move inside the Temple complex itself, inside at the entrances. As a result, those coming into the temple would have to ‘get past’ these merchants, and money-changers. It was almost as if you could not enter the Temple simply to pray and revel in the presence of God’s glory unless you paid a monetary price to do so. Scholars also suggest that some of these ‘merchants’ were less than honest or fair in their exchange rates or business dealings.
One could easily get the impression that it would ‘cost’ something in terms of material wealth to come closer to God! And what would this have meant to the poor, to those who did not have sufficient means to buy animals or exchange coins? How could one encounter this and not see some injustice in this practice? How could one in good conscience study the Psalm which says, ‘The Lord hears the cry of the poor?’ and encounter this materialistic ‘hijacking’ of the Temple complex? How could this not give way to ‘righteous anger’?
And of course, this ‘righteous anger’ is quite evident in Jesus’ response to this commercial activity; he overturns tables, and drives the merchants out, telling them they have made His Father’s house into a ‘den of thieves’. Jesus ‘righteous anger’ is the means by which He drives out that which corrupts and twists the open hospitality of the Father’s glory to all people – that warps the notion that salvation is a gift from God, freely offered to all people by God – paid for by God Himself in the person of Jesus.
Perhaps we can see this story played out in our own lives; either in response to an unjust situation that we have witnessed in our own communities, schools or workplaces.
Perhaps we can see this story in an even more personal and intimate way; we are, after all Temples of the Holy Spirit; our hearts were made for God’s love, a place for the love and glory of God to dwell in – are there things that we have allowed to creep into our own Temples that have distracted or obstructed us from seeking and finding God in our own inner sanctuary – in our own hearts?
This particular season, the season of Lent, is an ideal time when we practice prayer and fasting to ‘drive out’ those ‘money-changers and merchants’ in our own lives; those things that have moved into a position of prominence, coming before God and our Faith. This is an ideal season to offer up a prayer to Jesus to instill in each of us His sense of ‘righteous anger’ that will motivate us to ‘drive out’ those things that twist and warp the love of God in our own little Temples of the heart.
How wonderful it would be to make a house for God in our own hearts; how wonderful it would be to hear Jesus speaking the words, that each of us has made that house in our hearts, a house of prayer; a place where God dwells with us.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!