JesusŐs Anger and Our Reluctance*
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on March 8, 2015, the Third Sunday of Lent. The gospel reading is John 2:13-22.
Dear Friends in Christ,
You and I are so used to seeing Jesus pictured as a man of peace. He loved little children and respected women and held lambs in his arms and smiled angelically. He surely must have been the prototype of the sensitive and caring man. Then we read the account of what took place in the temple courtyard during the holiest season of the Jewish year. Our 8:30 bulletin cover illustrates the action on that day. Jesus made a whip from some cords of rope and drove out the money changers and the animals they were selling from the courtyard. He overturned the tables and shouted ŇTake these things from here! Stop making my FatherŐs house a marketplace!Ó
Today we get to look at JesusŐ anger and see if it was out of order for him to act that way, or not. And by extension to ask of ourselves: Is it ever okay for us become angry in the name of God?
What do you think? Was Moses wrong to become angry at the people and smash those sacred tablets on the ground? Certainly they had turned their back on God and were worshipping those golden calf idols in the wilderness near Mt. Sinai. Was Jeremiah the prophet wrong to announce GodŐs wrath in these words: Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods. I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutesÉShould I not punish them for this? (5:7-9)
A close study of scripture would say that GodŐs anger is described on numerous occasions and likewise GodŐs prophets and John the Baptist and Jesus displayed anger on occasion.
Someone has compared anger to nitroglycerine. Nitroglycerine is an unstable liquid which, in paste form, constitutes dynamite. However, nitroglycerine in very small amounts is what traditionally has been given to heart patients to keep their hearts beating. Anger, of itself, is not sinful. The sin is in getting angry over the wrong things. We get angry when someone cuts us off in traffic. Or when someone takes credit for something weŐve done at work. We get angry at our kids when theyŐre too noisy and at our spouse when they donŐt meet our expectations. Sometime we become angry when weŐre simply tired and cranky.
Yes, you and I are tempted to become angry over some things that are in the scheme of things arenŐt all that important. Jesus on the other hand got angry when he saw people exploiting something precious to God, our religious faith. JesusŐ purpose was to seek out and save the lost. When he encountered religious leaders who were using religion to take advantage of people, he became incensed.
What made Jesus angry that day in the temple courtyard? He saw hucksters exploiting the faith of pilgrims who had come quite a distance to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. This was a Passover Festival and many out-of-towners were there to make sacrifices. They couldnŐt bring an animal on their long journey and so by necessity they needed to purchase them in the courtyard. Unfortunately they could not use Roman money which was used elsewhere, so they had to exchange it for coins made by order of the priests which bore no image of Caesar. The exchange rate was awful and the people were taken advantage of. According to all 4 gospels, this is what Jesus saw and what made him explode.
At first blush that may not seem all that important to us today. HereŐs what we think was the motivation for Jesus. At the heart of JesusŐ actions on that day was his overwhelming passion and love and concern for GodŐs people. On that occasion the religious law certainly permitted what was going on. In fact the religious leaders encouraged it. But the law is one thing for Jesus, and how people are treated and how their faith is elevated is another. Jesus didnŐt die for the law; he died for people.
I wonder. What would it take for you to become angry in the name of God? What makes you passionate to want to do something now and right a wrong or help a person that is being taken advantage of?
Seminary professor Tom Troeger tells about a childhood game he played when he was in grade school. The game was, ŇYouŐre out! YouŐre out! You canŐt come in!Ó The way the game was played was the half of the children would form a circle. Everyone would face outward and hold hands. The other half of the children would be outside the circle. The ones in the circle would chant, ŇYouŐre out! YouŐre out! You canŐt come in. YouŐre out! YouŐre out! You canŐt come in!Ó And once they had chanted this twice, the children who were on the outside would rush as hard as they could and try to break into the circle. The ones in the circle could only hold hands, they couldnŐt lock arms. And the ones who were trying to break in had to get in on the first try and they couldnŐt keep pushing.
You and I know about that game. WeŐve seen it played out all our lives on both a childŐs level and on an adult level, and sometimes, itŐs been played in the name of Jesus. ŇYouŐre out! YouŐre out! You canŐt come in!Ó ThatŐs a chant weŐve used on all kinds of people in the history of the Church. It certainly was the chant 50 years ago among the folks who looked on angrily as the blacks and whites marched across that bridge in Selma, Alabama. It certainly was felt in our denomination and congregation as we voted to welcome all people, including our gay brothers and sisters.
Martin Mary once said that you can divide religious people into two groups. Not the liberal and conservative, not the Catholics and the Protestants, but the mean and the non-mean. That hurts, but it is also true.
Here is something that I wish for us at Resurrection. We need to become more passionate about our Christian faith. ItŐs not only okay, itŐs a really good thing to become angry when people are marginalized and abused and exploited and shamed and taken advantage of. ItŐs okay to let the Holy Spirit invade our hearts and minds with religious zeal. ItŐs okay and a good thing to really and truly care about being on GodŐs side and acting as a disciple of Jesus Christ and treating all people with dignity and love.
May each of us this day get our dose of nitroglycerine and act accordingly.
*illustrations based on the sermon Things that Make Jesus Angry (New) by King Duncan in eSermons