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  • The Rev. Dr. Brian Rajcok

Holy Anger

John 2: 13-22

In the 1998 Adam Sandler comedy Waterboy Sandler’s character Bobby Boucher is a young man who seems really nice and wimpy but has suppressed anger whole life.  Ever since he was a little boy he’s been picked on by his peers and controlled by his selfish, overprotective mother.  The only thing that gives him joy is volunteering as the waterboy for a nearby college football team.  He loves being the waterboy, but is teased and bullied by the players.  The coach kicks him out saying he’s a distraction.  Bobby is devastated, but eventually finds his way to another team that hasn’t won a game in years.  His new coach encourages Bobby to stand up for himself, and when he gets made fun of by one of the players, he tackles him and the coach sees how much potential Bobby has to be a great player.  Bobby learns to channel his anger and express it in a healthy way.  And he becomes the new star of the football team.

The proper use of anger is an important lesson demonstrated in the Gospel reading we just heard.  In the passage we read this morning, we see a different side of Jesus than we’re used to.  Usually we think of Jesus as a calm presence who is gentle and peaceful.  But here, he’s angry.  He overturns the tables of the moneychangers and drives them out of the temple.  He even makes a whip and used it to drive out both people and animals. 

It must have been quite a scene.  And historians’ comment that if somebody did something like that, it’s no wonder he was eventually executed.  All four Gospels report this incident.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke report it happening during the final days of Jesus’ life, perhaps the day after Palm Sunday.  Lending support to the idea that this was the last straw for the religious authorities that committed them to the idea of arresting and crucifying Jesus.  On the other hand, the Gospel of John places this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, right here in chapter two.  John does this sort of thing sometimes to make a theological point.  The chronology of this event wasn’t as important to John as the theology of it.  As the fact that this event represents what Jesus’ ministry was about.  So much so that it’s the first public act Jesus does in John’s Gospel.   

So why does Jesus do this and what makes it such an important moment?  Jesus was clearly upset at seeing God’s temple used for greed and commerce.  Back then, as well as today, money was a primary thing that could lead people away from God.  God’s holy temple had been profaned by human greed and people had lost sight of the real meaning of the temple.  This filled Jesus righteous anger, holy anger.  And more than just acting out his rage, Jesus was making a statement about the holiness of God’s temple and used his anger to motivate him to overturn tables and drive out those who were dishonoring God’s temple and taking advantage of others. 

Now this isn’t a situation where Jesus loses his temper or lets his anger get the best of him.  This is not out of control rage we’re talking about here.  Not an impulsive act.  This was intentional, channeled anger that Jesus used to motivate him, to give him courage and strength to do this rebellious and revolutionary act.  If we look closely, we see that Jesus may have taken his time and put some thought into this.  The Gospel says Jesus made a whip of cords.  Weaving cords together to make a whip takes some time.  It takes composure.  It takes intentionality.  Jesus didn’t just lose it and freak out on everybody.  No, this was controlled, intentional anger that Jesus chose to harness and channel the way he did.  For a purpose: God’s purpose.

Jesus was human.  Fully divine, and fully human also.  And we humans have the full range of emotions, including anger.  Anger is not a sin, it’s a natural response to things that are wrong.  It can easily lead to sin if we’re not careful.  But if we are mindful and spiritually aware, we can use the energy of our anger for good.  Then it can give us courage to face our fears.  It can give us boldness to stand up for what’s right.  It can give us inspiration to focus and learn how to overcome obstacles.  It’s what we do with anger that matters.  If we can pause and not get carried away by our anger—like Jesus taking a break to tie cords together—we can utilize the energy anger gives us to accomplish good.  Anger can provide forceful energy and motivation—what the text calls zeal.  Such a zeal as Jesus had for God’s holiness and God’s call for goodness and justice. 

Just like fire can be a very dangerous thing when it’s out of control, but can be a very powerful tool when it is controlled and used properly—in the same way anger can be dangerous when it’s out of control, but useful when it’s maturely handled and mindfully harnessed.  Harnessed as motivation for courageous action and standing up for what’s right.

Catholic priest Richard Rohr commented on this passage in his daily email meditations this week.  He tells us to notice that Jesus does not act violently or destructive toward people; he acts that way toward inanimate objects: money, tables, things.  He doesn’t hurt anybody physically here.  We should think of this as a nonviolent act of protest rather than a violent attack on his opponents.  Jesus did not bring physical harm to anyone, yet he still raged against the machine and lashed out against injustice and the dishonoring God’s holy house.

So we’ve seen that Jesus was mindful and deliberate with his anger and used that energy to carry out God’s will.  Now it’s time we ask ourselves: how might we do the same?  How might we use our own holy anger at the injustices in the world to carry out God’s will?  How might we use our anger to motivate us, inspire us, light a fire in us—so that we can act boldly and courageously like Jesus did?  What wrongs are we angry about?  And how can we be mindful of that anger and use that energy constructively to empower us, motivate us, to inspire real meaningful change? 

Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to have the same holy anger he did at the sight of injustice.  The same holy anger the prophets of the Old Testament had when they aggressively called out kings for mistreating the people and breaking God’s covenant.  There’s a lot in the world to be angry with.  But it’s important to be mindful and not fall into despair.  It’s important that we understand, like Jesus did, that we can channel that energy in the right direction and not be overcome by it.  We can make it a spiritual practice to be mindful of our emotions and when anger arises, offer it to God and ask that it be used for God’s purposes.      

Those who attended the adult forum last week may remember our speaker’s statement about how the work of faith-based organizing seeks to address injustice in some small but real way.  To do what we can in our own community and trust God to handle the bigger picture.  That way we’re not overwhelmed or disheartened by the evil and injustice in the world, yet still motivated and determined to initiate whatever change we can.  With God’s help we can tackle specific injustices and do our own little part in the ministry of reconciliation. 

And we know that all the things we’re angry about, all of the injustices in the world, all of the wrongs and sin and evil—Jesus took with him to the cross.  All the injustice and evil of the world, Jesus carried with him to Calvary.  And God promises a culmination when Christ will be all in all.  When the entire universe will be transformed, healed, and redeemed.  Until then, we trust that all has been reconciled already through the cross of Christ, and we follow Christ’s lead in channeling our anger, challenging injustice, and furthering God’s mission of love and reconciliation for all. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Pastor Brian | Sunday, March 3, 2024 | Third Week of Lent

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