July 19, 2015 John 2: 13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making 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. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
I was carpooling with several co-workers one night - creeping along in heavy LA traffic at rush hour. I was tired so a friend offered to drive my car. The next thing I knew he was in the fast lane, right up on the bumper of the car in front of us, flashing the brights. Heart rate accelerated. Blood pressure shot up. “Stop! don’t do that! I can’t stand it when drivers do that. It’s dangerous and we won’t get there any faster.” The words just slipped out, without my thinking about it. His driving etiquette (or lack of) was one of my pet peeves.
Here in Massachusetts, it’s those drivers who turn left in front of me when I’m half way through the intersection, so I have to apply my brakes in order not to be hit, or the drivers that almost run me down when I’m walking half way across a well marked cross walk, paying no attention that I’m actually there, or just seeing if they can get past me without having to slow down.
Pet peeves are mild forms of anger - those daily irritations that rile us temporarily - events that barely register on the seismograph of injustice, but cause us to loose our cool none the less. We express our displeasure, release the negative emotion, and move on. Anyone here have pet-peeves? Let’s hear some.
Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. I learned that when I googled “anger management” this week. 20,000,000 entries came up in .35 seconds. What does that say about the emotional health of our society today? Are we an angry society? Are we angry for the right reasons? Are we angry at the right people?
One site said that one out of five Americans have problems with anger management. That seems like a lot. But we’ve encountered those people, flying off the handle at the slightest provocation - venting, venting, venting. They crop up in the news all the time. I read about one who tried to beat up a witness in a courtroom when he was supposed to be convincing the judge that he didn’t have anger management problems.
But there are those events and issues that we witness or read about that reach out and wrench our souls - that stir us to righteous anger. They constitute our “hot buttons.” When coming face to face with them, we react without even thinking, unconscious of the consequences of our actions - potentially putting us at serious risk.
My friend Gordon, once again driving in lovely LA, witnessed a car in front of him almost hitting an elderly woman trying to cross the street. (Yes, LA drivers do that too.) The woman jumped back on the curb just in time as the man sped away. Gordon was so upset at what he saw that he followed the man for blocks until he pulled into a parking lot. Gordon got out of his car and confronted the man with his reckless driving. The man was in a suit and tie, on his way to the office. What happened next? The man beat up my friend, sending him to the hospital. Righteous anger meets uncontrolled rage (for whatever reason) with disastrous results. No wonder wrath is called one of the seven deadly sins.
For years now John Quinones has hosted a Primetime Live series, on ABC called “What would you do?” Have any of you seen it? They set up mini dramas using actors in public places. One of the actors plays a victim, being threatened in some way or forced into an illegal or uncomfortable situation. With the cameras rolling the viewing audience watches to see if anyone will come to the victim’s rescue. It’s an interesting study in human behavior.
In one scenario, with over 100 people watching the scene play out throughout the day, only three came forward to help the young woman in distress. Those who did were visibly shaken by what they had witnessed, and put themselves out there, regardless of the potential consequences. What is it that pushes our ‘hot button’ and moves us from righteous anger to action? Why do so many sit on the sidelines, even in the face of injustice or the threatened well being of another? Are you a side-liner, or a responder? Under what circumstances are you willing to put yourself out there?
Jesus walked into the Temple’s Outer Court of the Gentiles during the Feast of the Passover, and his buttons got pushed. His heart rate and blood pressure skyrocketed. He was angry all right. And before he probably thought much about it, his adrenaline shot up and propelled him into action, driving out the sheep and the cattle, as well as the money changers. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!” he ranted. Something tells me his anger had been building over time.
What happened to that meek and mild guy, the compassionate one who we thought never lost his temper, even while standing in front of Pilate or hanging on a cross? This story appears in all four of the gospels, so chances are, it actually happened in some form or another. The temple had been operating like this for years.
According to law it was obligatory for every male Jew who lived within 15 miles to attend the passover feast. You were supposed to make the trip at least once in your lifetime. People came from all over. The population of Jerusalem tripled in size during Passover. Those traveling long distances had to buy one of the unblemished animals being sold in the outer courtyard if they wanted to make a sacrifice. Their own animals would never make the journey unscathed.
Every male Jew over the age of 19 had to pay a 1/2 shekel (that’s about two day’s wages) as a Temple tax annually to support the temple sacrifices that were carried out daily for the people of Israel. That was the law. So what incensed Jesus so? What pushed his buttons? Seems it might have been behavior similar to what pushes some of our buttons these days. Old habits die hard.
Pilgrims were arriving from all over the ancient world with all kinds of currency, but the Temple tax had to be paid in either Galilean shekels or shekels of the sanctuary - both Jewish coins. Other currency was considered unclean. So in the temple courts there were money changers. By law they were due a small commission. But what enraged Jesus was; the money changers were fleecing the poor pilgrims at an exorbitant rate.
According to William Barkley, a Brit, “The annual revenue of the Temple from the Temple tax has been estimated to run to the equivalent of 100,000 pounds. Money changers made a tidy profit, running into the thousands. When Crassus captured Jerusalem and raided the Temple treasury in 54 B.C., he took from it the equivalent of several million without coming near to exhausting it.” Reminds me of walking through the Vatican Museum.
Meanwhile, setting aside the terrible stench and mess all these animals were making in the outer court of the Temple, (remember, this was God’s house) those selling the animals and doves were making their own kind of stench. They were ripping off the poor pilgrims who needed a perfect, unblemished animal to sacrifice. Temple authorities appointed inspectors to examine any animals which were brought in from outside. Chances were great that they would be rejected. Those visitors were left no choice but to buy their victims at the Temple. A pair of doves could cost as much as 15 times more inside the Temple than outside. You get the picture. It’s behavior we are all too familiar with. And to make it worse, it was being done in the name of religion.
Can you begin to see why Jesus reacted in the way he did? His anger was full blown rage, the opposite end of the spectrum from pet peeves. Our instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. It’s built into our survival mechanism. Whether it was the appropriate response here is up for debate, but Jesus certainly got his point across and no one got hurt - that we know of.
I’m sure this wasn’t the only time Jesus got angry. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, he exhibits bouts of irritation with his slow learning disciples. In the readings I did on anger management, they said the healthiest way to express anger is by “expressing your angry feelings in an assertive - not aggressive manner.”
So much for Jesus setting an example here. “To do this you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding, it means being respectful of yourself and others.”
As I child I always thought of Jesus as perpetually meek and mild, compassionate and understanding. If he got angry, he must have suppressed it, then converted and redirected it into more constructive behavior. Psychologists point out that “the danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward - on yourself, which can create hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.” It can lead to passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on), taking out your anger on the wrong person, or becoming perpetually cynical and hostile.
Another way to deal with angry feelings is to calm yourself down. There were many sites on the internet having to do with using meditation for this purpose. Jesus spent a lot of time by himself in prayer and meditation. I would imagine it came in very useful in dealing with all the challenges he was faced with. In this way he sets a positive example.
In the Saving Jesus DVD that some of us watched last year, Emilie Townes, a noted ethicist and American Baptist minister, talks about her response to this passage: “My favorite bible story growing up was Jesus turning the temple out. It was just too cool. There was a part of me that had this deep suspicion that this Jesus, that meek and mild guy I was hearing about wasn’t the real Jesus. And we hit that bible story and “I knew it!” You can’t be worshipping this guy who’s just meek and mild. He’s gotta have some edge to him. That story said to me it’s ok to question....It’s ok to say stuff is wrong when you know it’s wrong and it’s ok to do something about it. And that’s an important lesson for a little black girl growing up in the south, because so much of society was saying, “Don’t question. Stay in your place. Accept what it is.” I just knew somehow that wasn’t right and that story gave me the right to do that.”
What do we need to get angry about today? That shouldn’t be too difficult. At whom should we be directing our anger? When is society telling you to keep your mouth shut when you just want to scream? How do you know when it’s righteous anger you’re feeling, and when is it self-serving or destructive? How do we direct our anger in productive ways? These are questions you have to answer for yourself. But they are important questions to ask. (If time, elicit some responses)
Ours is not a passive discipleship that Jesus has called us to. I’m not saying we should walk around mad all the time, but there is a time and place for righteous anger, and be it a pet peeve or a pushed button, that is what will move us to action.