Why so Angry? – John Foley, SJ

John 2:13-25, Third Sunday of Lent


Ready for a shocking picture of Jesus? The gentle savior has turned violent. This Sunday he erupts into unrestrained anger when he sees people vending oxen, sheep, and doves right within the temple, sees money-changers doing business within God’s own house!

Not only is this unlike the Jesus we know, but doesn’t it violate the holy workings of the temple? These trades-people were selling animals simply because living animals were needed for burnt offerings. People had to get their sacrifices from somewhere. And they had to get their money changed, since so many of them came from lands with different currencies. Sounds quite reasonable doesn’t it?

Wrath for sure can be an understandable and just reaction to selfishness and greed.

Not to Jesus. He screams, “You are desecrating my Father’s temple!” He grabs some cords and yanks them into a knot. He whips the vendors. Whips them! Quite a terrible sight. And he heaves into an unholy mess on the floor the carefully sorted coins, and then finishes up by hurling the tables into the chaos he has created!

How in the world does such fury coincide with the quiet, humble Jesus we see in Holy Week? There he will say barely a word, even though his enemies will be violating the Father’s holiest temple of all, Jesus’ very self.

What is going on?

Some external reasons for his vehemence are evident.

Vendors were allowed only in the courtyard of the temple, not inside where they now had positioned themselves. And the dishonest practices of outdoor market-places had stolen their way into the temple. The thumb on the scale, the inflated prices, all of that.

There is another, internal reason which is much more important. Jesus knew with blessed certainty what human beings were created to be. We are made to be filled with God’s presence, to be beloved by God and to love God in return. We are most ourselves when we are not entrapped by riches honor and pride. We are designed to “let go and let God.” Jesus was overwhelmed when he saw sellers winking at these Godly values, preferring cold cash, and cheating for it—at the dead center of sacred space.

Everything had been turned upside down.

During Holy Week, why did he react so very differently? Why was he silent then? Because by then Jesus had come to understand the depths of his mission, which was not just to do social action—as he had done in the temple scene—not just to cure the people miraculously, not just to preach from the hillsides. He saw that he must be unified with our death as well as our life, must unite with us in the terrible hurts we get from each other. Only then could he show how very close and loving God is.

Wrath for sure can be an understandable and just reaction to selfishness and greed. The merchants were seeking short-term profit at the expense of freedom, holiness, truth, and the completion of the human spirit. Worse, they were foisting all this upon the people Jesus had come to save. So he hurled himself against the blind money grubbers. His emotion was real and quite impressive. But by contrast, on the cross he would empty himself out. He would surrender everything, including his fury.

Wouldn’t such a surrender cancel out the grubbing of the money changers? And of us?

*image from the Internet

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