John 2 : 13-22
A few weeks ago I attended an online conference entitled How To Rage. It was, I hasten to add, a theological conference organised by the Church Times, and the various speakers explored the theme of anger in scripture and how this manifests itself in actions.
Rage or anger is a very emotive topic. We need only pick up the newspaper or switch on the TV to see the very worst outcomes of rage, that results in violence towards others and causes death and destruction.
We could argue that actually there is much in the world to be angry about – injustice, poverty, pain, I am sure that you can all think of those issues that make your blood boil.
And indeed sometimes we need to get angry in order to change things. The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote “Anger is the passion that moves the will to justice” and there are many examples throughout the history of the world that exemplify the way in which anger at injustice has prompted action for pastime change.
The Bible recounts many instances of when people have got angry, sometimes with good reason and at other times in very negative ways.
Anger is a very human emotion and our Gospel reading this morning provides a further example of Jesus in his fully human state as he too expresses anger.
Of course the difference is that we often get angry for the wrong reasons whereas Jesus got angry for exactly the right reasons and this passage from John’s Gospel is a perfect example of this.
Jesus has arrived at the temple in Jerusalem at Passover – one of the most important festivals in the Jewish year when the exodus from Egypt is remembered and thanksgiving is made to God for leading His people away from the slavery and tyranny of captivity in a foreign land.
Jesus wanted to give thanks to His Heavenly Father as well, in fellowship with his disciples and he wanted to do that in the place that was dedicated to this purpose.
But instead he finds that this most holy place has been corrupted, it is being used for purposes very far from that for which it was intended.
Instead of being a place of reverence and sacrament the temple has become a market where commercial transactions are commonplace, where animals are bought and sold, where all sorts of dubious activities had become the norm. It may well have been the hub of the community but sadly for all the wrong reasons and certainly not in a way in which brought honour and glory to God.
It wasn’t that Jesus thought that the temple was the only place that God could be worshipped – the gospels are full of examples of all sorts of places where Jesus preached and people came together in fellowship.
It was the fact that the place that had been especially dedicated to God was being abused and dishonoured in such a cavalier fashion that caused Jesus to act in such an uncharacteristic way. The physicality of His anger may surprise us and is far from the image of the gentle, meek and mild Jesus that is so often portrayed in art and hymns.
We read in verse 17 that the disciples are reminded of Psalm 69 “Zeal for your house will consume me” – clearly Jesus’s actions are an outpouring of His zeal and His passion to put right the wrongs that have been enacted in God’s house.
The fact that money changing was going on in the Temple was as a result of the political situation at that time – the imposition of Roman law and thus their currency made it impossible for Jews to make monetary offerings in the temple without first changing their Roman denarii with their idolatrous images of Caesar imprinted on them into Judean shekels.
And where there is the need for commercial transaction there is, all too often, the opportunity for corruption due to the greed of unscrupulous people.
Jesus challenged these practices that had embedded themselves into the life of the temple – and when interrogated by those who believed themselves to be in authority, he spoke even more radically.
He proclaimed his ability raise up the temple in three days which those questioning him completely misinterpreted believing him to speak of raising the temple building rather than his own body.
At this point in His incarnation we know that even Jesus’s disciples didn’t understand what he meant, let alone those who were against Him, and as John notes at the end of the reading it was only after His resurrection that they realised the significance of His words.
Jesus’s reaction to what he finds is an amazing example of direct action through which we are taught that actually there are times when we need to make our voices heard, to speak up against wrongdoings that we witness.
Anger and outrage don’t need to equate to aggression and violence. Emotions such as Jesus displayed can be used positively to galvanise us into taking action when we feel that there is injustice in our community.
Jesus may not have talked about the kind of politics some of his compatriots might have wished him to, the kind of politics of overthrowing the Romans and regaining control of Israel but he constantly talked about the politics of injustice and exclusion.
Jesus spoke out for the least, the lost, and the lonely. He taught us that we should love God above all else and that because God loves us above all else we should practice this radical love in His honour and for His glory. We learn through this passage that sometimes we too may have to get angry and make our voices heard – but that we need to ensure that we are guided by God at all times and that what we do has the Gospel at its heart.
Through this passage Jesus also teaches us that we should revere and respect God’s house. I don’t think that this means that our church buildings should be dedicated purely for worship. I think that this means that whatever use we put our buildings to, it should be in ways in which we can proclaim the Gospel and benefit our community.
Over the past year the way in which we have been able to use our buildings has been rightly very limited. I know that the inability to gather for worship has been hard for many of us and on those few occasions when we have been able to meet it has not felt quite the same, the lack of singing and fellowship have been challenging and have somehow diminished the act of corporate worship. We have all had to adapt to new ways of being united in our praise and thanksgiving and I am very conscious that this has been particularly difficult for those who are not able to access online resources.
We have also not been able to welcome our community to our buildings, to invite other groups to share the facilities that we are blessed with and that too is a source of sadness.
As we slowly ease out of this current lockdown I am sure many of us are looking forward to being able to resume some of the activities that we have all enjoyed and missed so much. I think that this period of reemergence also gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we really value as a Christian community and are keen to restore and what we need to consider doing differently to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit.
We must never forget that we are stewards of places that have been dedicated to God and that should be used as instruments in his mission in which we have been invited to participate.
Throughout the Gospel we see Jesus using all sorts of places to minister and teach but we also see him seeking the opportunity to worship and pray in holy places. We see him seeking silence and space to be with God, not just in the temples but outdoors surrounded by the wonders of creation.
Over the last year we have all had to find new places to be with God. We have all experienced a huge range of emotions and we know that we still have a long way to go. This in-between time of re-emergence has strong parallels with the Lenten season that we also find ourselves in the midst of -a wilderness season, a time for reflection, a time for lament, a time for contemplation and most importantly a time for hope.
Our emotions are what make us human and Jesus knows what is to feel emotions as we see here in this Bible passage and indeed throughout the Gospel. Our emotions enable us to feel compassion, to experience love in all it’s many forms, to motivate us act for the good of others and that’s never a bad thing providing we never lose sight of the reason we act – to further the kingdom of God here on earth.
In these times words of encouragement are important and where better to go for such words than scripture. I commenced by telling you about the conference I went to and I’m going to end with the verses that concluded that time which I found an encouragement and I hope you will too – they’re from Paul’s letter to the Romans and remind us that whatever adversity we face we have the hope of the Gospel and the comfort of prayer to sustain us.
Romans 12 11-12 “Never be lacking in zeal, keep your spiritual fervour serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”