Lent 3 (Year B)   John 2: 12-25 15 March 2009
Prayer: Lord we give you thanks and praise for the hope and strength we have in Jesus. For the strength to resist temptation and for the hope we have in knowing that we can be forgiven when we fall short of your standards. And may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be ever acceptable to you our Lord and redeemer. Amen.
Todays Gospel reading shows a side of Jesus personality that we dont normally see or pay much attention to. A side of him which doesnt fit with what we think we know about him, to quote the childrens prayer Gentle Jesus meek and mild! Here we find Jesus is angry and not only angry but he looses his temper at the traders and moneychangers in the outer courts of the temple. He goes after them with a whip, he shouts at them, he quotes scripture at them; he is genuinely frightening! This is a very different Jesus indeed to the one we think we know!
Yet if we know our Bibles we will find that there are many times when Jesus presents a face that we find uncomfortable, there are indeed other times when he shows us anger. Woe to you teachers of the Law, you hypocrites you snakes, you brood of vipers, how will you escape being condemned to hell?
If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a mill stone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. He curses a fig tree, he calls a Syrian Phoenician woman a dog. He asks - which is lawful to do on then Sabbath, good or evil, to save life or to kill? The Pharisees remained silent. He looked round at them in anger, deeply distressed by their stubborn hearts.
He curses a fig tree, he calls a Syrian Phoenician woman a dog.
He asks - which is lawful to do on then Sabbath, good or evil, to save life or to kill? The Pharisees remained silent. He looked round at them in anger, deeply distressed by their stubborn hearts.
And I am sure you could find other readings. These are not aspects of Jesus ministry that we are comfortable with, they certainly dont conform to our idea of him being gentle, meek and mild!
So why was it that Jesus was so angry on this particular occasion in the Temple, what annoyed him so much? To understand we need to know more about the Temple as it was in Jesus time. There were various courtyards, one reserved for Gentiles, one for women, the inner courts were for men only.
The very centre, of the Temple The Holy of Hollies contained the Ark of the Lord and only priests were allowed to enter there. The money changers and the traders were confined to the outermost areas of the temple and they were the problem here.
The Bible teaches that the animals offered for sacrifice must be perfect and without blemish. They should be the best, worship should cost us, and we should always give of our best. The Bible also teaches that nothing unclean should come into the presence of God, hence all those laws in the Book of Leviticus about being ritually cleansed. It was therefore argued that normal everyday money could not be clean and could not be used to buy the sacrificial birds and animals, themselves overpriced. Money had to be changed into Temple Currency and of course the rates of exchange were extortionate.
Every Jew knew and was taught from an early age about the holiness of the Temple and the importance of sacrifice. So they knew what their religion demanded, they knew that worship was only worship if it did indeed, cost you something. But the extortionate rates of exchange and the overpriced animals meant that the poor were excluded. The worship of God was limited to those who could afford it. Rampant profiteering and exclusion of the poor from worship does not honour God. And it is this that angered Jesus It is written that my house shall be a house of prayer for all people but you have made it a den of thieves. But all of this would not be forgotten by the Temple authorities, after all the Temple was a nice source of income for them.
Now we Christians have been taught not to be angry, we have been taught that to be angry, to loose our tempers, is somehow sinful. Yet this is not what the Bible tells us. Paul says Do not let the sun go down on your anger. But he doesnt say not to get angry in the first place. So is this an aspect of Jesus ministry that we should all emulate? Well Id rather you didnt turn over the tables at the back of church or beat up those who come to take the collection this morning! But worship should cost us, as it cost the Jewish people. Jesus wasnt complaining about collections he was protesting about oppression. Anger can be, properly channelled, a Godly response to the world and all its problems and injustice. We will be singing John Bells hymn, which encapsulates much of this at the end of our service and I will use a part of it to end my sermon.
And should we not be angry when we see people treated badly by governments and living in abject poverty? Should we not be angry when we read of the abuse of young children in our society? Should we not be angry when we hear of people in political or high office in business being accused and convicted of corruption? Should we not be angry at the behaviour of those who hurt us for no good reason?
Anger is better out than in, expressing our anger is healthy, but how we express that anger is the tricky bit. It is our faith and commitment to Jesus that should inform how we express our anger. Simply shouting at people, remember One Foot in the Grave and Victor Meldrew, simply shouting isnt particularly helpful. Nursing our anger doesnt do us any good either, it just makes us bitter. Thats why Pauls advice about not letting the sun go down on our anger is such good advice.
The way forward is to deal with it to do something about it! If you are angry when you see bad government or abject poverty write to those governments and give money to the organisations that are trying to help the worlds poor. Are you angry when you see children mistreated, then join the NSPCC, help at your local childrens home. Are you angry with the corruption and greed in society then write to your councillor or to your MP or even get up a petition. Are you angry at the behaviour of those who hurt you, then say something! Exercise your voice so that others know your feelings. You cant do that? You dont know until you try go on it may well change your whole outlook on life.
Jesus certainly did, he expressed anger, righteous indignation, at how the Temple was being run to oppress the poor. He expressed that anger through physical action and through harsh words. Yet in the midst of his anger he told the truth. We can also express anger truthfully. We can use anger to help change the world, our country, our church, even ourselves. Indeed, anger can be a true blessing. For the love of God use anger and use it well! As John Bell of Iona puts it Listen Lord Jesus, I am angry too. In the Kingdoms causes, let me rage with you!.