What makes you angry? This was the question asked of me the first time I appeared before the Examining Chaplains. The Examining Chaplains is a Diocesan Group, appointed by the Bishop that helps discern with prospective candidates their readiness and calling for ordained ministry.
What makes you angry? This wasn’t something I had given much conscious thought about. Most of my life up to that point I had worked hard to control my anger and emotions in the same way many of us may. Learning to breath and count to 10 before responding. Writing the letter, but not actually sending it. Waiting a day or two before responding. These and any number of other tactics I have used as I am sure you have as well depending on the situation.
In today’s Gospel we read about a moment when Jesus is angry. He is visibly and arguably, uncontrollably angry. uncontrollable anger is never a good thing, but it happens. It is scary to see and almost always prevents any reasonable response or process through the issue. I know for myself, when in a situation of uncontrollable anger, everything in me wants to disappear and get as far away from the firing line as possible. Sometimes that is an appropriate response. Personal safety should always be a priority.
There are times however, when running for the hills is not the best response. When I was woking as a nurse in acute care, I was a member of the Code White Team. This is a group of nurses, doctors and other staff who have undergone specific training in handling uncontrollable anger from patients, family or other visitors to the hospital. When the “Code White” is announced over the hospital intercom system, we are the ones who drop what we are doing and respond to the situation at hand wherever it may be in the hospital.
Jesus’s behaviour in the temple, would require a response from the Code White Team should he have been in a hospital or should such a team have been in place. This is a passage that can be difficult to interact with. We are conditioned to want to like Jesus, understand his behaviour as good and Godly. He is, for us, our role model, teacher, friend and Saviour. So why then, at some level, when we come across this passage, our natural instinct would be to turn the page and not think about this passage too much? Where is the Code White Team when we really need them? This, after all, is not the Jesus that appears to be extending unconditional love to all people all the time.
While this is not our preferred Jesus, Jesus’s anger in this passage should also come as a bit of a relief. We can, on some level, breath a little easier as we realize that in this passage, even Jesus appears not to be in control and is quite human, exhibiting a human response. There is comfort in knowing that Jesus too feels angry sometimes. This passage should cause us to pause and reflect on our own emotions and times of anger. How do we respond when we are angry? What then, makes us angry?
But to understand Jesus’s anger we need to dig a little deeper into today’s gospel. In the same way a church community thrives on the volunteer base, regular tithing, fundraising, community partners and any number of other initiatives that enable to the daily operations and functions of the church to continue, so too the Temple in Ancient Israel relied on the cattle, market and money changers to ensure the daily operations of the Temple. So on this level there is no real concern. However, one of the problems with this particular instance is that many of these activities were used to cheat or undermine other people. So Jesus’s anger is understandable when holy work for a holy purpose is not being used for very holy things.
This is a question worth pondering if we haven’t before. How does our work and daily operations highlight the Holy and further the reign of God? How do we make space and protect holy ground for holy work? Here is where the other problem Jesus has with the behaviour of those conducting Temple business. Cheating on people is bad enough, what makes this so much worse, is that the Temple is the very place where the faithful encounter God and the Divine. The Holy Ground of the Temple is compromised and Jesus is angry, and quite rightly too. Imagine how we would feel if the very places we encounter God are compromised and used for immoral or wrong behaviour.
What makes you angry? Ponder this question in your prayer life. Reflect too on where you encounter God and the Divine. Are these places worthy of being protected and getting angry over if they are compromised? How do these places where the world intersects with the Divine help strengthen our relationships with God and the world? Sometimes we need to get angry, to turn up the tables and remind ourselves and the world of what is Sacred and worthy of our protection.