This is our truth, tell us yours
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” John 2;13-22
A familiar bible story though one rarely preached on, those who invent camel gates and try to find wriggle room in the exhortation to give up all your possessions to follow CHrist rarely comfortable with this passage. For one thing it does not fit the nice image, that middle England Jesus who never raises his voice, who pleads some form of the middle way, the Jesus who need not trouble your day to day life so long as you attend church and give to Oxfam.
This is an angry Jesus, a Jesus so angry he attacks people. We dont like anger, especially if we dont think the person is justified. Some background to what was happening in this story may help explain where this anger comes from. Under Jewish law the animals to be sacrificed had to be judged perfect, after all they were sacrificed to God. The original rules took into consideration that this might disadvantage the poor, a whole list of different animals from the first-born calf to a simple dove were considered acceptable. You could even sacrifice wheat or beans for the very poorest. The meat, or beans, belonged to the priests, this was how they sustained themselves, their reward for the fact they could not work and provide for themselves and their families since they were dedicated to the worship of God.
However by the time of Christ Jerusalem had become a cosmopolitan city, a roof and good food was not enough for those who ran the temples, they wanted cash, and thus a series of scams polluted the temple. You would arrive with your sacrificial animal ready to perform your duty, to worship God, and it would be inspected. However, shock, horror, it would not be found to be perfect enough. What are you to do? How fortunate that there is a man here selling “perfect” doves or lambs. Just one small issue, he only takes temple currency, after all, this is a sacred place, so if you just pop over their, change what little money you have after the taxes of the ROmans and then you can by your animal for sacrifice. Oh and the exchange rate isn’t 1;1, of course not, temple money is after all far more valuable than your ordinary money.
Can you see why Jesus was angry? After all he was not just the son of God but the son of man. A working class man, he grew up among people in poverty, for whom every single penny would count. He lived among the poor and the disposed and here was a system that exploited them for gain at the very moment they wished to grow close to his heavenly father. This was not just exploitation, this was exploitation that fed on their desire to worship God.
The reaction of the Pharisees was the reaction I see all too often to someone expressing anger, what right do you have to feel this way. This is especially strong on twitter, almost daily it seems someone who is privileged or who benefits from privilege questions the way someone who is oppressed is expressing themselves. Instead of looking to the cause of the anger, or asking themselves why the anger is coming out in this or that situation they instead try to police the anger itself.
I am well aware writing this that I am one of those who gets angry on twitter, recently I have been showing less love than I would like. However when my feeling is challenged, when my right to be angry is questioned the anger simply increases, since it seems not even anger is allowed in the face of oppression. Anger may be impotent, but sometimes it is the only thing someone has. I see this in others too, where they are told their words would be listened too if they were more reasonable, less angry, always by people who, like the pharisees benefit from the way current society is structured.
The next time you see someone express their anger, instead of trying to return them to a non angry state that is more comfortable for us, perhaps we need to think about why they are angry, and then what can be done about that, the cause of the anger.