The story is told in all four gospels. John’s gospel is the most detailed, but each narrative is brief and to the point. Coming into the Temple with his disciples, Jesus mounts an attack, yes, an attack against the merchants who have set up stalls selling produce, animals, household needs. He fashions a whip and lashes all about. He turns over tables and spills the money. He lets loose the sheep and doves. Something visceral, seething, uncontrollable has erupted, has gripped his soul. He is sweating, swinging, screaming. “You have made my Father’s house into a den of thieves.” This is reported to the Pharisees. His death warrant is sealed.
Jesus disturbed the peace. Jesus protested an injustice. All Jews, the very poor included, were forced to pay heavy taxes to support the Temple. Surely, Jesus could have cut these merchants some slack. But the very poor were probably not there. Simple believers were not there. Business people were. As vendors, they paid the chief priests a handsome sum to rent a piece of the Temple for their commerce. These were people who did not respect the faith. They saw the commerce they engaged in as a way to reach the more affluent Pharisees who would, in turn, purchase from them. Everyone profited from this scheme. The collusion is obvious. Jesus’ anger is justified.
There is such a reality as just anger, an anger that “…points justifiably to the denial of rights,” says writer, Ursula Le Guin. “(B)ut the exercise of rights can’t live and thrive on anger. It lives and thrives on the dogged pursuit of justice,” she added. If you are angry at our current political unrest, you are not necessarily wrong or a bad person. But you have to decide whether your anger is justified and then do something about it. You have to move beyond anger into something constructive. Something that helps us to do that is to sort out the information we absorb each day from the many platforms of information at our disposal. Instead of disparaging the news, make an effort to gather information from reputable analysts and researchers. Yes, they exist and are plentiful. Listen for the logic and truth you are presented. Place your personally informed opinion and your experience in the crucible of that analysis. Be humble. Allow your anger to teach you something about yourself.
Several biblical scholars hold that Jesus’ anger was partially rooted in the fact that desecrating the Temple as a building only foretold how the unbelievers would desecrate him, the new Temple, the Temple in the flesh who was offering redemption. He was challenging the lack of respect and depth of real understanding that true Judaism required.
I suggest we meditate on John’s narrative of the Cleansing of the Temple. (Jn 2:12-22)
What does this story mean to me as an individual facing my own anger about my country, my Church?
And I hope we will pray each day for all the areas of the world where injustice flagrantly ignites anger.
A Prayer to Face Anger
Help me, Lord, to see the reason for my anger.
Help me to use it for justice, for reconciliation.
Give me the courage to discard it when it prompts me to hurt another.
Help me never to choose any form of violence in thought, word or action against any human being in defiance of my opinion and my wishes.
Help me to turn my anger into peace.
We see Jesus filled with justifiable anger and rage acting to return his Father’s house to a house of peace and a place of worship. It reminds us that we too might hold righteous anger. I see this happening today during our presidential race.