Holy Fury! Jesus Gets Angry
Well, I know that so many of us have been so impressed with the young people in our country who have been taking to the streets in recent years and making their voices heard on issues like climate change, gun control, and systemic racism. Throughout our nation’s rich history, it is the impassioned voices of young people that have brought about great change.
Most of our founding fathers were in their twenties during the time our great nation was created. I know we tend to think of them as old – with those powdered wigs – but they were really young.
And, many people in our little church – when they were young - made their voices heard and helped bring about change during the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. Others of you marched for women’s liberation and for gay rights.
President Obama said: "Young people have helped lead all our great movements, marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be.”
When I was a young man, I, too, took to the streets in protest, marching with a group called ACT-UP, which stood for “AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.”
Thousands of people in our community were dying of AIDS, and no one was doing anything about it. Not churches leaders. Not local government officials. Not even the President of the United States.
More than 20,000 American citizens had already died before President Ronald Reagan even mentioned the word AIDS publicly. And, so, we took the streets –in outrage and in anger.
We in ACT-UP wore military-style bomber jackets and combat boots, and we wore dog-tags around our necks with the names of our friends who had died. ACT-UP was loud and in your face, making our outrage and anger heard.
This is the anger – the holy fury – that Jesus expresses in today’s Gospel passage, where he flips over tables and brandishes a whip.
This is the anger that fuels social justice. This is the fury which brings about change.
Most of us find it difficult to picture someone like Jesus or Gandhi expressing anger. But, you know, Gandhi said: “I have learned to conserve my anger. And like heat that is conserved is converted into energy, so our anger, controlled, can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”
And, the contemporary spiritual writer, Martha Beck, says: “Virtually every step that our species has taken towards a better society happened because someone used a tankful of anger to move the world.”
This is the anger Gandhi used to free India from oppression. It is the anger the Suffragettes used to get women the right to vote. It is the anger that helped free the captives of the Amistad, whom we commemorate today. And, it’s the anger of ACT-UP during the AIDS crisis, and the anger of the Black Lives Matter and “Me Too” movements of today.
And, this is the anger - the Holy Rage – that Jesus uses in driving the merchants and moneychangers from the temple in today’s gospel story.
This story is told to us in all 4 gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospels. This story is at the tail end of Jesus’s ministry, right before his death.
But, did you notice that today’s gospel was from John, Chapter 2?
John places this story right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.
John wants to establish from the outset that Jesus wasn’t a meek and mild man, but a brave, passionate, and fearless spiritual leader.
His behavior in today’s gospel – turning over tables and brandishing a whip – may seem out of character for the man who’s become known as the Prince of Peace.
It’s strange for us to see Jesus angry, when Jesus is the guy who said, “Love your enemy,” “Bless those who persecute you,” “Turn the other cheek.” Right?
But, you know, “turning the other cheek,” is not about being passive. It’s about being defiant.
In the Gospels, we have several examples of Jesus being defiant, but he didn’t display his anger very often. Like Gandhi, he conserved it. And, he was able to transmute it into an energy that changed the world.
I don’t know about you, but I like that Jesus gets angry from time to time. It reminds me that he was human, just like us. Jesus experienced all the human emotions we do. He experienced anger, impatience, worry, fear, and frustration.
It’s strange for us to think of Jesus having these emotions, but if he was human, he most certainly did. Here’s the difference: Jesus became a master of his emotions, and most of us are servants to our emotions. We let our emotions control us and get the best of us.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus demonstrates for us how to take charge of our emotions – how to take our anger and use it as fuel for change and justice.
For this gospel story – like all the gospel stories – is not really about Jesus. It’s about us. This story is all about the cleansing of the temple. The temple is a sacred, holy place. Things going on in there were defiling the sacredness of the temple. Jesus cleanses the temple by ridding it of the things that were defiling it.
So, how can we look at this story metaphysically or symbolically? What does this story of “Cleansing the Temple” mean for us today? Well, Scripture tells us that the Body is the Temple of the Spirit.
Your body, your being – your inner temple – is a sacred, holy, peaceful place, and you defile it whenever you allow yourself to be taken over by negative emotions.
But, instead of allowing these emotions to “set up shop” and make their dwelling inside your being, remember that you have the power to drive out and overturn the things that are defiling your holy temple….
…things like lack, limitation, unworthiness, resentment. These are not things of God, so they don’t belong inside your holy temple.
For as Scripture tells us: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.”
The season of Lent is the perfect time for cleansing your inner temple. The word “Lent” comes from an Anglo-Saxon word which means “Spring.” This is the season for us to do some inner Spring Cleaning. Lent is about letting go and releasing the things that are no longer serving us.
You can let go of anger by transforming it and transmuting it into a positive energy for change. Remember, your emotions are not bad. They are only bad if you don’t take charge of them, if you allow yourself to be controlled by them.
The Good News is that you have the power within you to master your emotions, to take control of them and to use them as agents for change.
Our “Words of Integration & Guidance” today remind us that the word “nice” never once appears in the New Testament. Not one time. Following the Way of Jesus is not about being nice, it’s about remaking the world as it should be and creating a just world for all.
So, my friends, let us continue to use our anger and outrage as fuel for justice and change. And, let us boldly go forth with “holy fury” to speak our truth and to be the change we wish to see in the world.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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