Anger. S0 many things make us angry. Anger is a very natural human emotion. Anger is not a sin. What we do with our anger–how we express it– brings us into the realm of morality and sin. Still, far too often people justify temper tantrums and inappropriate expressions of anger citing Jesus’ banishing merchants and moneylenders from the temple.
But what Jesus exemplifies here is different from what happens when we get angry. We must distinguish Jesus’ righteous anger from what we demonstrate due to wounded pride, selfishness, jealousies, or when we desire to intimidate, manipulate, or seek revenge. A careful study of the Scripture shows what appears as anger on Jesus’ part, is His ZEAL FOR GOD. That is why the disciples recall the passage of Psalm 69 and that is the difference. This Gospel shows Jesus acting as God’s abiding Spirit insisting people internalize the outward sign of the temple to make their very lives temples of continual worship to God. By the way, the reference here to “the JEWS” here, is not about an entire ethnic group. The ONLY way to interpret the phrase today is to apply it to anyone and everyone not concerned with deepening their relationship with God and others. It is a scandal that the Church did not emphasize this formally until Vatican Council of 1965. But thankfully, we know this now, and we are obligated to assure that others know this, too. Now: back to Jesus’ Zeal for God and a properly God-oriented humanity.
Zeal for God is intimately aligned with the TEN COMMANDMENTS – the heart of restoring humanity to right relationship with God and others. That is why we included a Reading of the Ten Commandments today. To become superficial with prayer, rites and rituals deprives us of the foundation of our true dignity –that everyone, all Creation belong to God. Thus, business of temple sacrifices in 27 AD mirrors the business and activity in our 2021 lives, highlighting the sad truth that we often ignore our relationship with God. The result: superficial, hypocritical religion. Today’s Gospel insists we take note of “ROTE” and make a change!
It is not that the money changers and animal merchants were so awful. Money exchange from Greek and Roman coins to Temple coins devoid of objectionable images was reasonable. In fact, Jesus would have approved of not having coins with images that tempted people to make gods and goddesses of emperors, public officials, and civic leaders. We remain tempted to make gods and goddesses of many public figures today in all realms of government, sports, and the arts. We, too, must be on our guard!
And, as for the animal sacrifices, everything has its proper time. It was clear to Jesus that the time for animal sacrifices had come to an end. The people had stayed too long in an early stage of their faith—substituting animal sacrifices in place of cultivating contrite hearts, repentant, humble ways of living. How often did the prophets of old proclaim that! Jesus declared time to advance to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God and others had arrived because, the Christ was in their midst.
When God is not the foundation of life, when we do not daily cultivate humility, thanksgiving, spiritual growth, repentance, and reconciliation, we must pray for ZEAL: the righteous anger of Jesus to be incarnated in ourselves. Jesus’ ZEAL reflects an anger without judgement, an anger without hate, anger without condemnation—all the inappropriate ways to which we are so prone. Although our angers often do not, Jesus’ Zeal always invites transformation, and spiritual renewal for everyone. The ZEAL of Jesus is anger built on compassion—to orient people back to God and our genuine human dignity.
Today, therefore, this Gospel invites us to participate in the very justified movements such as Black Lives Matter; the LGBQT movement, ME TOO, Equal Rights, Equal Pay for Equal Work, and other important, transformative endeavors. Not to have zeal for other’s rights is to devalue our won rights and dignity. Not to want to perpetuate the Kingdom of God for all, to cultivate Right Religion (freeing our faith from hypocrisy, superstition—and modeling ways for others to do the same), Right Government (freed from lies, illusions, arrogance, partisanship, and greed) makes prayer and religious observances superficial. Rote religion deprives us of receptivity to the Grace Jesus offers freely, for GRACE and gratitude for grace are the true source of our human dignity.
In these times of turmoil, as we strive to return to our true dignity, we must remember, too, that transformation may evoke violence in others because society is so threatened by transformative change. As it was in Jesus’ time, so it continues until now. In joining any just cause, we must first evaluate our personal angers in relation to Jesus’ ZEAL and, ultimately, patiently invite others to evaluate their angers and frustrations so that together we may explore healthy ways of converting our anger to cooperation for positive change. Still, confronting wrongdoing may require cracking a whip across a pillar –never upon human flesh and bone—because people must be called to attend to righteousness. Otherwise, we all just go about our busy lives.
What we know about Jesus throughout the Gospels and in centuries of faith development is that he while He used the whip to sound an alarm, he did not, could not inflict on others what was-and would-be inflicted upon him. Note, John’s Gospel places Jesus’ Zeal at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Once he exposed hypocrisy of superficial religion, he left the temple to heal, perform miracles, to preach with the blessed assurance, that everyone can belong, everyone can be mutually cared for. Indeed, spiritual ZEAL comprises patient endurance and compassion, saying to the corrupt, the defensive, the selfish, those who live in fear: “We know you were brought up this way! We know fear and anger is evidenced on all sides. Still, we know what is right, and what our God-given rights are. In our hearts, we think you know that, too. Take responsibility for your past, join in a coalition for lives of faith, hope and love.” Things do not have to stay the way they are. Our past does not have to dictate our present or our future. Today’s Eucharist offers Grace to you and me to restore us to the ZEAL that is Jesus’ mission. Take and Eat. Go and do likewise.