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Anger (John 2:13-25)


 

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry - Ephesians 4:26

We continue our study of John's gospel with John 2:13-25 this week.  Our reading describes Jesus driving the merchants and their animals out of Temple.  He turns over the tables that the money changers were using and he set the pigeons free.  He demanded that they not use God's house as a house of trade.  The leaders questioned what authority he had to do this, and he told them "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up".  They thought he was talking about the building, but after his resurrection the disciples remembered these words and realized he was foretelling his own death and resurrection.  The chapter ends with an interesting comment about how the people believed in Jesus, but Jesus did entrust himself to them.

I moved and went to a new school for 7th grade.  I was a quiet kid and I kept to myself, but this one kid in gym class was relentless about picking on me.  Every day for the duration of class he would make taunting comments and mock me in front of others.  I never lashed out verbally, but one day I was so angry that I punched him once in the gut.  I realized too late what I had done and I guarded my core as he lashed out with a fury of blows to my own stomach.  The pain was terrible, but I didn't strike again, I just waited to see what he would do.  I refused to escalate it further.  After his series of punches he collected himself and walked away.  He never picked on me or even talked to me again.   

Some people would look at this incident and say that both my anger and my actions were justified, while others may excuse my anger, but not my actions.  They might say: "Be angry and sin not" (Ephesians 4:26).  A few may even say that even the anger was not Christ like.  They might say that as Christians we should not ever get angry because anger is a sin.  What does the Bible tell us about anger and action?

In our reading today we see Jesus clearly angry at what he sees in the Temple.  Not only is he angry, but he takes some pretty radical action.  He turns over tables, opens animal cages, and uses a whip to drive animals and people out of the Temple gates.  This is not the peaceful serene Jesus we usually see in pictures portraying Jesus, this is Jesus the revolutionary, the radical.  I would argue that this is the only evidence we need to demonstrate that anger in itself is not a sin, but does it justify all anger?  All action?

One of the things that has always stuck with me about the clearing of the temple is the making of the whip.  Making a whip of cords is not a quick action.  It takes time and patience to twist the cords in a way that makes them bind together.  To me, this points to an important distinction between the action I took when I punched that kid in school, and the action that Jesus took.  My action was quick and impulsive.  I realized after I had done it what I had done.  Jesus took the time to prepare and think about his actions before doing them.  As a result of this time in contemplation he was able to act in a masterful way.  He lashed out at the behaviors, the systems, not the people. 

For brevity sake, let's look at just one of his actions to demonstrate how he cut to the root of the problem, instead of just lashing out in frustration at the people.  People from all over the known world were traveling to the Temple during Passover to follow the scriptural command to offer their sacrifice there.  It was too far to travel with the animals required of them, so they brought money with the plan to purchase their animal sacrifice once they arrived in Jerusalem.  The sellers were forced to operate using temple currency, so the money changers were there to profit by trading in the money people brought with them for the Temple currency.  They were taking advantage of people who were trying to worship.  They set up barriers to entry and this was a form of oppression.  When Jesus turned of the tables over, the money would have scattered everywhere.  Jesus didn't harm the people, he overturned their oppressive system.  This was not an impulsive act, but a targeted action to end a form of oppression.  

God help us to let go of any anger that is not justified.  Help us to not ignore the righteous anger that stirs in our hearts when we see or experience injustice.  Help us to act masterfully, not impulsively when we do feel anger.  Help us to target the systems of oppression and not the people with our actions.  Bring us to a place of peace and a day when anger will no longer be needed.  Help us to find the better way of reconciliation whenever it is possible.  

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