As we continue our Lenten journey, the scripture for the week is John 2: 13 – 22 – Jesus cleansing the temple. For those of you without your bibles handy, verses 14-15 provide the Cliff Notes Version:
14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
The passage goes on to highlight how Jesus and his message are often misunderstood. We hear what we expect / want to hear. I take some comfort in knowing that this has ALWAYS been a problem with Christianity – that Jesus and his message were so radical, so not-the-way-we-do-things that we have a tendency to try to place Jesus in our own context. “Well…what this was REALLY about is…” “What Jesus REALLY meant was…”
We like to make Jesus one dimensional. All soft and cuddly and safe. But that is an incomplete picture. Jesus is also Not-So-Cuddly. Jesus is challenging. He was loving, but he was also demanding. Jesus asks a lot. Jesus expects a lot. And, here, we see, there are simply some things that Jesus Will. Not. Tolerate. It reminds me of one of my favorite memes:
And I think it’s an important part of Jesus to remember: sometimes he got angry. That’s important because, on the whole Christians and Christianity are pretty uncomfortable with anger. (Even more so when that anger is expressed by a woman, and particularly a woman of color.) Instead, we like to talk about forgiveness. Forgiveness is good: forgiveness is important. But that doesn’t mean that anger is somehow not also a perfectly acceptable or necessary response. Depending on the situation, anger can be appropriate. Useful. Justified. We don’t see Jesus forgiving the money changers in this passage – we see him flipping tables, kicking them out of the temple and chasing them with a whip. Righteous anger says “This is not okay!” then it takes steps to stop it.
Here, Jesus acted out of righteous anger at the site of God’s temple being defiled – of turning the temple into a place of business, of trickery, of profit not prophet. But I think the same could be said about all kinds of injustice – the oppression of the vulnerable, the “least of these.” In response to abuse, to injustice, anger is a useful tool. We can forgive the money changers later, but FIRST we have to get them out of the temple.
I think about this passage a lot as a woman, because in my own faith journey I have been told not to be angry. To forgive. Always. So have my sisters across all faiths. But sometimes those well-intentioned, well-meaning messages miss the mark. I think about those women, children, and, yes, and men who have experienced abuse. In those cases it often takes a long time to get to anger, to get to a place that says “This is not okay!” They are entitled to their anger – it is that righteous anger that helps them to get out of those situations, away from their abusers. They should be angry. And we should be angry for them and WITH them. I will not compound abuse by telling victims that they are not entitled to feel angry about it.
I think about the times when we see injustice, and throw up our hands and say, “That’s the way the world works” or “What can you do?” and this passage reminds me that, actually, you CAN do something! Make a scene, flip some tables!
I don’t know how to make a whip. I’m not sure I can throw anyone and their flock out of anywhere. But I CAN object, I CAN raise my voice, and, if called upon I CAN raise a ruckus.
I know it goes against most of what we’ve been taught. I know it goes against the “make nice” and “don’t make anyone uncomfortable” ideologies that have been deeply ingrained in all of us since childhood. But, as we continue our Lenten journey, our preparation for service and ministry, I invite you to consider this passage. To consider righteous anger as an appropriate and necessary response to injustice. I invite you to consider where you may have thrown up your hands in resignation because “that’s the way the world works.” And then, I invite you to pray and reflect.
Because sometimes we are not called to throw up our hands, we are called to throw the table.