Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 26, 2018

Mad Jesus

Anger is a difficult emotion. It can, like most emotions, come upon us unbidden. It can create an unhelpful chaos, may cloud our judgment, may lead to violence. Anger can spill over into emotional, physical, or verbal abuse.

Sometimes, though, anger is an important element for change.

I know I’m not alone when I say that anger (mine or the anger of others) often makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like it when my emotions take over, since I sit pretty far on the “thinking” side of the thinking/feeling scale. And anger often makes me feel out of control. I often don’t know what to do with it, and I can’t always be sure in the moment if I’m doing the right thing. We use the term “mad” as a synonym for “angry,” because it can make us act a little out of our minds.

In the story we have about Jesus this week, he seems to lose control due to anger.

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 marketplace!”

I’m going to assume that Jesus doesn’t walk into the temple courtyard on a day prior to Passover with the idea of taking up whips and overturning tables. Maybe he’s already been thinking about the excesses he’s seen and experienced there before. Maybe he is already working up to mad. But when he sees those people doing what they are doing on this particular day, anger overwhelms him and he gives in to the emotion of the moment.

What does he see that brings out his anger?

It’s not just people selling stuff on temple grounds. It’s not just currency exchanges. It’s the greed. It’s greed masquerading as something holy.

Let’s reconstruct the scene. It’s Passover, that most important of Jewish feasts. Thousands of religious pilgrims are making their way to Jerusalem to worship at the temple and offer sacrifices. If worshipers can’t afford to bring a large animal, they can bring a pigeon. In addition, a half-shekel is expected as a temple tax. This tax must be paid in Jewish coin, because Roman coins have images of emperors or gods, and are therefore not permitted.

Inside the courtyard of the temple are people who will help you. Some are selling the animals you need for sacrifice, and others are exchanging your Roman coins for temple coins. Why does that make Jesus angry? Because it’s likely that those who are selling and exchanging are in cahoots with corrupt priests.

Here’s how that would work: You might bring an animal from your own flocks, or purchase one from your neighbor. The priests, who examine the animals (which are supposed to be “perfect”), may deem yours unacceptable. Then, if you want to keep your religious commitment, you need to buy one from a merchant inside the temple grounds. Those merchants charge more than what the animal is worth, and likely give a kickback to the priests. In a similar way, the money changers can charge pretty much any exchange rate they want, and they have a monopoly on the business.

This makes Jesus really, really mad. Merchants and priests alike are taking advantage of all worshipers, but especially the poor who can least afford it. You go to pray, and you are required to spend a lot of money to do so, to be acceptable to God with your sacrifice.

Jesus is so mad that he grabs a whip and scatters the animals. He overturns tables. He yells stuff about God and prayer. Animals scatter and some people get out of their way while others try to corral them. The money guys are scurrying around for coins that are rolling across the ground.

Chaos.

When we bring this passage forward to our time, I’ve usually seen it as only about worship defilement—how it’s so horrible when TV evangelists and other pastors use their status to enrich themselves. It’s a travesty. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong and it should make us mad.

Today I’m reading the text as a more expansive statement on righteous anger, and how sometimes—sometimes—anger may be necessary in order to make a point.

Let me be clear that I’m terrible at this. I don’t get angry very often, and when I do I’m not usually very effective. For me, it involves taking a step (or several steps) back, engaging my reason alongside my anger, and carefully formulating a response. Jesus doesn’t seem to do any of that here, but then he’s, well, Jesus.

Righteous anger seems to come into play most justifiably and effectively in justice issues. We’ve seen how anger

  • fueled the Abolition movement in America,
  • brought about the vote for women, and the changing of laws to allow women to inherit property,
  • opened minds and hearts in the Civil Rights Movement,
  • made cultural shifts in our views of LGBTQ persons,
  • recently turned the far-too-common experience of harassment in the workplace into #metoo.

You’re right if you’re thinking that peaceful protest, voting, personal relationships, and reasoned arguments are usually what changed our culture. However, all these effective strategies sprang from widespread anger over injustice, unfairness, and ill treatment.

Just this week, we’re seeing how anger over yet one more school shooting, combined with sadness, fear, public and private conversations, political action, and peaceful protest are creating fertile ground for change. We don’t yet know if change will come, or what that change will be, but the angry (mad) voices of children and their parents who have been directly affected and harmed have touched us all. Some are still saying it’s not the right time to talk about gun violence, out of honor and respect for victims of survivors. If not now, when? Anger and frustration are, at least for now, moving the conversation forward, through the voices of those very survivors.

Jesus, out of his concern for both worship and the poor, showed us that justice issues and faith issues are twins. Faith without justice isn’t Jesus faith.

And sometimes, sometimes, it takes a little anger to bring attention to a cause and to motivate others to join in doing the right thing. When we get mad over injustice, we’re reflecting part of the character of Jesus–creating a little holy chaos.IMG_9022, low

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

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