A man is about as big as the things which make him angry. —Sir Winston Churchill
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find in it the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, AMEN.”
Jesus clears the Temple: Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48
PRAYER FOCUS: What Makes Jesus Angry?
“What makes you angry?”
This is probably the most revealing question asked in any job interview. The answer provides clear and deep insight to the person’s priorities, their values, where their boundaries lie. It can also reveal the person’s capacity to misrepresent, or conceal, the truth.
Some people never seem to get angry. Nothing disturbs their even keel. They are rarely, if ever, visibly upset, much less indignant. This is often seen as a marker of virtue or strength. But it is neither.
In our modern day, children, especially boys, are repeatedly given the message that anger is bad, that acting out brings disgrace and discredit. This message can be extremely harmful. It allows no room to deal with things that do—and should—make us angry.
The Monday before he was crucified, Jesus Christ gave us a crystal clear demonstration of what made him angry.
Jesus enters the Temple and confronts the merchants and moneychangers inside what was known as the Court of the Gentiles. He loses his temper. He raises his voice–overturns tables, scatters money and merchandise all over the place. He raises his fist. He makes a whip of cords, and physically drives both man and beast out of the Temple. Jesus has insulted the Temple’s leaders before and now he insults them again. “Den of thieves!” he yells at them.
It is safe to say almost everybody in Jerusalem heard about this violent, spectacular confrontation. Religious leaders of first century Jerusalem were no different than many religious leaders of today: they (claim to) disavow violence, they dislike spectacles (especially at their expense), and they avoid confrontation (unless they control it).
The events in today’s Scriptures stand in sharp contrast to what is usually preached about Jesus. An angry Jesus? Well, we’d just rather talk about how much he loves us. Anger is so, so–negative. (wring hands for effect).
What made Jesus angry to the point of violence?
1. Defiling what is holy (set apart for God). The Court of Gentiles was the outermost enclosure of the Temple of Herod, where non-Jewish believers worshiped the God of Abraham. But instead of being a quiet place, a clean place, a holy place for prayerful consideration, it was where animals were penned, where religious merchandise was sold and money exchanged. Would it make you mad to walk into your church and find all this going on in the back half of your sanctuary? Jesus roared, “Make not my Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2:16).
2. Disenfranchising God’s children. Mosaic Law kept Gentiles separate from the ethnic Hebrews in the Temple (hence the outer court). But the Jewish religious leaders were callous towards the Gentiles in ways that far exceeded that requirement. How do you think it made the Gentiles feel to have their spiritual brothers shunt them into a smelly, noisy stockyard to pray? God is offended when we make it difficult for any group (or any one) of his children to worship. Jesus exclaimed, “My house is to be called a house of prayer for all people!” (Mark 11:17).
3. Exploiting and/or cheating the faithful. The Temple levied a tax on all visitors equivalent to two days’ wages. Most people used Roman coins engraved with the image of Caesar. This was offensive to the religious leaders, so pilgrims had to exchange them for local coinage—for a small fee, of course (~15% commission). Animals brought to the altar for sacrifice had to be declared without blemish. The Temple had quality control inspectors and, of course, they usually found something wrong. Conveniently, the worshiper could buy a beast that had already passed inspection—for a small fee (10x the normal price). Not surprisingly, the Temple priests were in on the racket. Dishonesty takes many forms, and God hates them all.
What makes Jesus angry? The same things that make our Father-God angry: Sin. Impurity. Injustice. Dishonesty. Unbelief. Rebellion against God’s authority.
Yes, God is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalms 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:14, Jonah 4:2, Nahum 1:3, etc.). And He is deeply, keenly interested both in keeping His house clean and His children safe from abuse. Just because God’s anger is slow to rise doesn’t mean He will never respond in it.
Consider what Jesus did and did not do:
• Jesus didn’t form a committee or ask anyone’s permission. He got right to work making his Father’s house clean again, directly challenging those who had let it become defiled.
• Jesus didn’t ask nicely, and He didn’t worry about what anyone thought. He made a whip and He made a scene. There is a time for diplomacy, but this was not it.
• Jesus did have the courage of his convictions and was prepared to seriously offend those in power. He hit them right where it hurt—He assaulted their cash flow and their pride.
• Jesus did show restraint, even in the heat of anger. With a word the Son of God could have called down fire from heaven, or caused the earth to open and swallow up the recipients of His anger–but He didn’t. The whip of cords would sting but not wound. He drove the cattle and sheep out of the temple where they could be retrieved. The scattered coins could be picked up. Jesus did not release the doves, but rather warned their owners to “get them out of here.”
The cleansing of the Temple shows what controlled, righteous anger can do. The correction of social injustices in the 19th and 20th centuries happened because people got angry about the conditions of the working poor, the plight of women and children, the unequal exploitation of minorities. There are times remedial action needs to be taken in our churches, and it is rarely the placid, passive man or woman who undertakes the task.
Jesus was angry, and for good reasons. Let us mark those reasons well. There is enormous, eternal comfort in knowing our Lord and Savior understands anger and allows a place for it.
It’s Monday. What would Jesus drive out of your church? What might he ask you to drive out of your life?
NOTE: In honor of Holy Week, The Monday Prayer will publish every day until Good Friday. As the week progresses, we will follow the daily activities of Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the Scriptures, along with observations and prayer.