Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
Throughout the gospel readings we see the story of Jesus play out; and, while he often seems to be vexed or frustrated at the disciples and other followers who don’t seem to understand his message, we only see him incandescently angry once, and that is in today’s reading where he confronts the money changers in the temple.
As a Christian, I frequently got the message, both explicitly and implicitly that I wasn’t allowed to be angry and that I was supposed to love everyone and not be confrontational.
I don’t think my experience was unique, but I do think it was amplified by my being female. There was additional societal baggage that said that girls should be quiet and well behaved and never, ever angry. So even if I was angry, I should never show it and I should, in particular, never confront someone* with my anger.
Due to the two-fold message, from the church and from the world, that it was wrong for me to feel anger, I spent much of my teens and early adulthood mistaking anger for sadness. I didn’t even really know how to identify anger as separate feeling. Over time I went from identifying anger in myself, to realizing that anger was just a feeling. It was not good or bad in itself, it was what I did with it that mattered.
Eventually I learned that there was a place for expressing anger and for confronting others. That place is in standing up to oppression and injustice.
When Jesus confronts the money changers, it is with the righteous anger of one correcting an injustice. He overturns the tables of the money lenders and drives them away using anger and fierce confrontation; but that is not the end of the story.
The confrontation, in driving out the money lenders, has made space for the blind and the lame to come to the temple. Jesus welcomes them and heals them. They can come to him freely without the need to change money to buy a sacrifice. Jesus has removed a barrier between an oppressed and disadvantaged group by using his anger to confront an injustice.
Like comedy and workplace gifts, anger should always flow upward. If I’m going to use my anger as fuel to confront a person or an institution, they should be more powerful than me or the group I am trying to get justice for.
I see this in the reading. Jesus directing his anger at those who have monetized worship and who are profiting, in particular, off of the poor and disadvantaged. He then directs his service and compassion to the blind and the lame who come to him for help. Jesus does not spread his anger about or explode in a rage at the person nearest to him. He channels his rage at a specific target, and to effect a specific result.
Anger, when used as a motivating force to act for justice is not bad– any more than pain motivating one to go to the doctor is bad. Anger is a sign. Anger can be prophetic. Anger, when used a tool, can be a powerful force for positive change.
*Just to be clear: the ‘someones’ I shouldn’t confront were usually white, male, and authority figures.
Bible citations are from Bible Gateway using the NRSV text.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
© 2019 Kristin Fontaine