John 2:13-25 | 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B
When is Righteous Anger Appropriate?
This passage in John is often used to justify righteous anger—if Jesus got angry over the secular use of the temple, we should also get angry when we think religion is used improperly. At other times, Jesus is brusque and abrupt, frustrated with His disciples’ or (our inability) to understand His mission, but this is the only time He gets physically angry. But do His actions justify our own righteous anger?
Jesus forcefully sends everyone conducting business out of the temple, including those selling animals for the sacrifices required by Jewish law. Mary and Joseph would have purchased doves from such a merchant when Jesus was brought to the temple to be dedicated. While Simeon and Anna were probably not selling animals, they would have been surrounded by such activity. Yet scripture makes no note of it being a problem then. Why was it an issue thirty-three years later?
The difference makes me think of Maya Angelou’s poignant words, “Do the best you can do under the circumstances. When you know better, do better.”
Mary and Joseph were a devout Jewish couple who followed all the rules set before them. Their obedience honored God. But the thirty-three years of Jesus’s life were a time of transition. They ushered in the new covenant. Jesus was to be the last blood sacrifice. Animals were no longer needed for that purpose. Jesus’s body was the temple which would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. When Jesus cleared out the physical temple, He was also doing so metaphorically. He was getting rid of the “old wine skins” (Matt. 9:17) so that the new could be properly accommodated.
The issue, both then and now, is that God’s ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8) and we can’t fully grasp them. When we think we do, we try to play God. Jesus was sent by God to usher in the New Covenant. That’s not our role. When we play God, when we get fired up with righteous anger, ready to clear out everything we think is religion-gone-wrong, we inevitably get it wrong and do more damage in the process.
Jesus cleaned out the physical temple. What if we clean out our temple? What if we focus on ourselves this Lent? What if, we take Paul at his word that our bodies are our temple (1Cor. 6:19), and we take this Lent to find and then clear out (forcefully if necessary) all the places WE are mistaken in our views? What if we stop trying to play God and start trying to listen to Him? Of course, we’ll get it wrong on occasion. And of course, there are times we have to stand up in righteous anger.
But if we’ve spent time with God in prayer, truly listening to His desires and not only trying to push our own agenda with Him, then we will truly be living out the new covenant that He designed for us in Jesus’s life. Only then will we “know better” so we can “do better.”