Third Sunday of Lent (2018)
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
It was Aristotle who said: “Anyone can be angry. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, with the right purpose… that is not easy!”
The gospel story from John, on this Third Sunday of Lent, speaks of Jesus forcefully cleansing the Temple. It presents to us a unique account of Jesus displaying what we might call “righteous anger.” The story is, however, not unique to the Gospel of John. So embedded is this Jesus story in the early Christian tradition, and so important, that the account appears in all four gospels. What is unique is the presentation of a side of Jesus’ personality that we rarely see. What is unique is the way the evangelist John uses the story, especially in comparison to how the Synoptic writers use it.
It is said that God has hard-wired us in such a way that most healthy human beings are angry inside when we see evil and injustice being done to someone. When we see a thief stealing an older woman’s purse on the evening news; when we read of school bullies pushing another child to the brink of suicide; when we are told of young people being hurtful and insulting to others on the internet; when we learn of a husband that beats up his wife; when children are abused, or even shot – the list could go on and on – we are outraged, and moved to what can only be described as righteous anger, good anger, healthy anger. That is the anger manifested by Jesus in today’s gospel when he makes a whip and turns over the money changer’s tables. It is the anger of Abraham Lincoln who hated slavery. It is the anger of Martin Luther King, Jr. who found racial discrimination intolerable. It is the anger of Nelson Mandela who was willing to spend a considerable amount of time in prison rather than continue to allow apartheid to be the law of the land in South Africa. It is the anger of every martyr who ever surrendered their lives rather than compromise their principles. It is a righteous anger.
There are hints of righteous anger throughout the gospels. The not infrequent confrontations that Jesus has with the religious leaders of his day can surely be viewed as signs of a good anger that has the power to change a situation for the better. It is that passion for something better which overflows in Jesus, and causes him to drive out the money changers and those who had turned God’s house into a profitable business. As John states, Jesus “needed no one to give him testimony about human nature,” and he knew that those who came to the Temple to worship were being taken advantage of by the so-called businessmen.
John stands apart from the other evangelists by placing his Temple cleansing story at the beginning of his gospel, not at the end. For the Synoptic writers the cleansing story is seen as the last straw. Appearing after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the cleaning out of the Temple secures the unwanted attention of the Scribes and Pharisees, whose patience evaporates and who “began to look for a way to destroy him.” The cleansing is viewed in the Synoptics as a primary catalyst for Jesus’ crucifixion.
John puts the cleansing at the beginning of his gospel, as if to broadcast that this is the way this Jesus is going to operate from here on in. This preacher from Nazareth will not be satisfied with the status quo. He will do what is right and just, and His mission will not be deterred by those who would threaten His life. What is intolerable for Jesus will not be tolerated, and His actions will model for His disciples just who they are called to be should they choose to follow in His footsteps.
As men and women who bear the name of our Savior Jesus, we too are called to act as Jesus does. In the face of injustice we are to muster an anger that is never abrasive, but is always righteous. It is an anger that moves us to do what is right, and to change the world in which we live for the better. Choosing to throw out the money lenders and turn over their tables was a bold choice for Jesus. In a world where there is so much room for improvement, perhaps we are being asked to make a bold choice this Lenten season.