John 2:12-35, Third Sunday of Lent
I grew up in an angry home. We lived with my maternal grandparents who were migrants from Ibaan, Batangas, where they were quite poor. Venturing to Davao, my grandfather worked his way up from maglalako ng kulambo to landowner. But that whole arduous climb made him and lola such angry old people, though. It took very little to get them all worked up. Eventually, dad and mom became quite angry people, too. That’s one mysterious thing about anger. Stay with angry people and you get angry, too. But to be fair, under the circumstances, dad and mom tried their best at being good parents to us. I guess you could say that my ending up as a priest would be proof of that. But boy, did we walk on eggshells in that house when kuya and I we were growing up.
Wasn’t it so that in those days, no one really admitted that he or she was an angry person. We’d say that a person got angry or felt angry. Anger was just “one of many” emotions. In our house, anger was a pretty “efficient” emotion, too. It kept us children in line, and the house quiet. Anger got things done. It got people doing what we were supposed to do, and then some. But back in the day, you and I thought that anger was a just now-and-then reaction for the most part. Today, however, anger could be considered a personality, couldn’t it? Worse, there’s such a thing we call anger addiction—in which someone doesn’t just get angry, but stays angry, and walks through life always in a slow burn.
Now there is a different kind of anger that shares the same pole with deep and passionate love. I’m sure you have experienced this, especially the parents among you. You love someone so deeply and so devotedly, that you will lay your life down for that person’s sake. You will endure the thousand and one terrible things the person does to hurt you and him/herself, and still be there for the person. But as a consequence of that passionate love, you get unbelievably angry when, (a) you see other people hurt the one you love; and (b) when the person you love is being stubborn and reckless for his/her own good, and ends up needlessly hurt. Now I think that kind of anger that shares the same pole with passionate loving—is at the heart of Jesus’ outburst at the temple in today’s gospel.
For Jesus loved the Father. He would lay his life down and defend the Father when people took advantage of his goodness and yet misrepresented him—like the religious authorities did. Jesus had had enough of them giving his Father a bad name—through their formalism, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy. A very close second are people made to suffer needlessly by the same people who give the Father a bad name. In today’s case, the temple authorities who are uncompromising with ritual purity are the same people involved in corruption. Well, that day, the Lord finally just had to let them all have it. They were making a fool out of God and fools out of the people—all of whom Jesus loved and served.
The temple authorities, the Sadducees, they should have known better than to make a bazaar out of a place of prayer, and cash in on people’s faith and devotion. That was what the vendors were there for: they sold animals for burning as temple sacrifice. Money-changers were also around because Jews from faraway carried currency that needed to be converted, so they could buy the animals. The elephant in the middle of the room was what priests earned from the hawkers whom they gave access to temple grounds—when in fact, no one but no one was allowed into temple premises unless he had performed the requisite, elaborate purification. The Temple, after all, was the purest place on the face of the earth…as the well-heeled Sadducees would have every Jew believe. But…as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be…when money talked, the law shut up.
So Jesus explodes. He strips a thriving lie back and exposes the painful truth. “This is my Father’s house,” he must have bellowed. “And you have made it a marketplace.” I don’t think Jesus actually hit anyone with the provisional whip he made out of cords. But it must’ve been quite a scene. Jesus must have been fuming. You know how it is when someone is so angry that he’s quiet, but his arms do the hollering? The Lord must’ve made a huge mess all over when he grabbed at the edge of tables and let them come flipping through the air, flinging money everywhere. “Zeal for your house consumes me,” was how John remembered it, quoting the Psalms. Jesus’ anger was electric. And the current ran along the same pole anger shared with deep, passionate love. At the end of the day, of course, Jesus wasn’t about to walk away unpunished for this outburst. This was in fact the last straw that would finally birth the scheme for an execution.
This season being Lent, perhaps it will be good if we asked ourselves: What about me? Which anger do I have? Is it the one that instills fear and obedience, which eventually benefits me more than anyone else? If I were to ask people dear to me if my anger is a normal emotion or if it’s become my personality, what would they say? If I asked the Lord to evaluate my anger, how would he classify it? Is my anger born of deep, passionate love—righteous anger by which I am consumed with the zeal to protect and defend victims dear to me, the very energy in my fight against injustice?
I end, strangely enough, with an interesting quote Stanley Bing, a humorist with a long-standing column in Fortune magazine: “Anger is a fuel. You need fuel to launch a rocket. But if all you have is fuel without any complex mechanism directing it, you don’t have a rocket. You have a bomb.” Sisters and brothers, in that case, may that complex mechanism then be love.
*image from the Internet