Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
March 8, 2015
“Jesus Gets Angry”
“Let us open our hearts and minds as we now hear these holy words of scripture, taken from the gospel according to John, chapter 2, verses 13-22.”
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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. 16 He told those who were selling the doves “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
“Let us now allow God to bless our understanding of these ancient words.”
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Today, we find Jesus at the temple and it appears that he loses his temper. So, immediately, we begin to ponder: we wonder if it is OK for Jesus to display anger. Or we may be jumping ahead and saying, “Well if Jesus can do that so can I!” So before going ahead with justifying our desire to display anger, let us take a moment to reflect on what was really going on that day. Was Jesus just spontaneously responding to something he disapproved of? Or was the writer of our gospel lesson trying to lift up a different aspect of Jesus’ ministry for us? Is this scene part of a larger picture that we are meant to be looking at?
As we look to the angry Jesus in the temple, chasing out the moneychangers, we need to take a moment and reflect and see what was happening just before. This will help us to begin seeing that bigger picture. Before we grapple further with these obvious questions, about this “angry” Jesus, let us step back and look at the verses just before Jesus goes to the temple that day, back before he Jesus and the disciples go to Capernaum for a few days. This is where we find Jesus at a wedding in Cana, before he came to the temple in Jerusalem.
It was not just any wedding.
This was a very significant wedding as we find that Jesus, and many of his disciples, as-well-as his mother, were there. At this wedding we hear how at this point in time during the reception – they run out of wine. This gives Jesus’ mother the opportunity to urge Jesus to perform a miracle which was the first sign of who Jesus truly is. It is in that first sign that we get a glimpse of Jesus’ power and might; clearly, having Jesus do so at a wedding had great symbolic meaning.
Listen carefully to these few verses. “There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it, and when the steward tasted the water… it had become wine.” /John 2: 1-11/
The wedding in Cana is the first sign pointing to who this Jesus truly was, displayed by his first miracle, making wine out of water. It also marks a new beginning, the start of Jesus’ ministry. This “new beginning,” the beginning of the Messiah’s coming into the world has been strategically placed into the event of a wedding. The symbolism at this point is at its peak, as virtually everyone knows that a wedding is, to those involved, a new beginning, a new family and a new start for the new couple involved. Frequently, in the scriptures Jesus is placed into a wedding banquet to symbolize the new bridegroom, the Son of God, the Messiah! In the gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus tell this parable: “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ ” /Matthew 25, verse 6/ The meaning of this parable is uncovered when we learn that it is Jesus, The Messiah, The Holy One, who has come.
Weddings are joyful celebrations, and certainly not a time to be angry. Good food, good wine, at least at the wedding in Cana. People seldom see a wedding as a time of anger. The reference to “running out of wine” suggests that they were having a really good time with many people gathered. All of us want a new beginning to be a time of tranquility and peace. Every new couple dreams of their wedding as being the start of something new and wonderful. This wedding scene sets the stage for us! Now, with the scene set, Jesus is prompted to go public with his ministry by displaying his divinity, with this miracle about the wine.
Did you note that the six stone water jars were for the Jewish rites of Purification? These jars are normally stored at the Temple, not at a reception for a wedding. Yet, here they are. Again the symbolism is profound. Jesus has these jars filled with water, and these are the jars from which the wine steward tastes the best wine. A miracle yes, but more than that! In these purification jars Jesus performed this first miracle, clearly upping the symbolism. And then we quickly switch into the temple scene where Jesus is clearing the temple of the vendors and moneychangers.
So let us travel to Jerusalem with Jesus.
It is after the wedding that we find Jesus traveling to Jerusalem, via a stop in Capernaum with his mother and disciples. /John 2:13/ It is at the Temple that Jesus is lifted up as “The Angry Jesus!” We will talk about that more, but it is in the Temple where we find that Jesus cleans house; it is a new beginning! In essence Jesus is purifying the temple for the work of his Heavenly Father! 16 He told those who were selling the doves: “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” /John 2:16/ Jesus was pushing out the old corrupt and unjust ways of the money changers and vendors that use the Temple as a place to cheat the people. Jesus’ actions that day symbolically clarify that he is going to tear down, break down the old ways, and start fresh. Thus a new beginning!
Many interpret Jesus’ roust of the temple vendors as anger, but was it truly anger? Within the commentaries notes of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, (NRSV) just following this passage, (page 127) we hear this opinion of Jesus’ actions: “Not an outburst of temper, but the energy of righteousness against religious leaders to whom religion had become a business.” /NRSV, the New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Testament, page 127/ It would appear that this opens us to a totally different approach to understanding what was motivating Jesus. Clearly, his energy level suggests that he was outraged by the injustice that was being displayed through the moneychangers and vendors. Jesus uses that energy to begin tearing down the old, just as clearly as his symbolic jester at the wedding in Cana; a jester that strongly implies his work was to be a new beginning. Indeed, Jesus was creating something new and in order to do that the old had to be torn down; in this case the vendors had to go!
Let us go back and look at a common definition of anger: “Anger is an emotional response related to one’s … interpretation of having been threatened. Often it indicates when one’s basic boundaries are violated. Anger may be utilized effectively when (used) to set boundaries or escape from dangerous situations.” /Wikipedia/ There is no reason to suspect that Jesus was in danger at this point. One can certainly speculate that this was about to change, as Jesus initiated his actions, however that was not what moved him to roust the moneychangers. Clearly his motive, which led to his action, was his desire to begin setting some basic boundaries. If there was true anger involved in his outburst of outrage against the temple vendors then it was an anger that pushed him to set new boundaries for what a church, what a temple, could and ought to be used for.
How many reasons might Jesus be angry with people at the time of his ministry, and what about now? Our cold heatedness, our lack of faith, our self-centeredness… these are a few traits that we hear of and see displayed in the scriptures; and yes these human traits are still among humankind even today. Is it time for us to clean house, just as Jesus did at the temple?
Jesus is always setting examples for us to follow, does this mean we are justified in becoming angry? That of course is a loaded question! Be careful as you work your way through this thought. Let’s ask ourselves the obvious question: “When is it OK to be angry?” And are their different types and or levels of anger? Most therapists and good sponsors in the 12 step programs tell their charges, their clients, that they cannot afford to be angry. Is this accurate? Or is this a broad over simplification that is truly only targeted at uncontrolled and reckless anger and or totally emotional anger?
We must ask ourselves: is there a difference between uncontrolled and misdirected anger verses measured and focused anger? Take for instance: becoming angry enough to take action against a social injustice in our society? Together, we can easily name a few such points in history. You can can’t you? Slavery, bigotry, and racial profiling, glass ceilings, as-well-as bias against sexual orientation, and on and on. You are starting to get the idea, yes?
Anger in of itself is not the sin; it is what we do with that anger that can lead to sinfulness. Be careful now, it is a sticky point here and an easy slid from justified anger to sinfulness. The questions we might want to ask ourselves are: “Why we are angry? What are we angry about? And how are we connecting that anger to people, places and things?” Aristotle once said: “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Yes, Jesus was angry and he set out to symbolically clear the temple of the injustice that was there. Jesus did this in a very deliberate way, thus clarifying what he was not willing to tolerate any longer. This marks a new beginning.
From the cleansing of the temple, from this act of purification, Jesus began his ministry. We can look to this example as we seek out areas within our lives, our church and our community that need change. We can use the motivational aspect of anger and affectively apply it to actions that need to be taken. We cannot, we must not use anger: to vent our misguided, irresponsible and emotional frustrations. No, we can act as adults and use this energy as Jesus did – to bring attention to things that need to be changed and start building something new. We can make a new beginning, after we first cleanse or clear out that which no longer works for us and/or is no longer effective.