How do we deal with Jesus’ anger in John 2:13-25?
Let’s begin with an overview of the text from A Cartoonist’s Guide to John.
Anger is not bad. The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4:26 to “be angry but do not sin.” Anger is not evil. Listen to this sermon on emotions. Anger is a gift from God.
We’re talking about anger because it seems like Jesus gets pretty worked up in John 2:13-15.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. ((The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 2:13–15.))
This is our big question.
This scene in the Temple is not an isolated incident with Jesus.
This is one of the ongoing themes of John.
The sign stories come in couplets. You can’t truly understand the temple cleansing scene without contrasting it to the Wedding in Cana from John 2:1-11.
He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” ((The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 2:16.))
His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” ((The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 2:17.))
Today’s text quotes Psalm 69:9 as it describes Jesus’ actions, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.” Psalm 69 is attributed to David who is feeling overwhelmed by people who are unjustly trying to harm him and thwart his obedience to God’s calling.
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. ((The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 2:18–22.))
In order to understand what is going on in this story, we have to understand the Temple and the history of God’s “dwelling places.”
God first dwelt with humanity in the Garden. No building. No clothes. Simply full communion with no shame. Humanity proved itself capable of deception and betrayal. The human condition is one in which we constantly struggle with shame, blame, and the violence of self-protection. God seeks to restore the full fellowship for which we are created. This is the story of the Bible.
The following images give a fun way to understand the size and history of the various structures that Israel has used to identify the dwelling place of God.
For scale to our Western American eyes.
A small, portable tent. God led the people through the wilderness and they pitched the tent wherever God stopped along the way.
King David wanted God to have as nice a palace as his own. David’s son, Solomon, built one. Read 1 Kings 9:6-9 to see how God felt about this permanent box.
The people of Judah went into exile for 70 years and had no Temple.
Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple after the exile, then King Herod lauched a 40+ year construction project to “Make the Temple Great Again.”
This is the structure into which Jesus enters in John 2:13-22. The religious system had become one in which the leaders used the Law to extort and exploit the poor people traveling to the festivals.
The Jewish people went to war with Rome thirty years after Jesus left. Rome completely destroyed Herod’s Temple. The Gospel of John was written after this event. The followers of Jesus were asking, “Where does God dwell?”
The word translated “lived” in John 1:14 is the Greek word skenao, which literally translates tented, or pitched his tent. The noun version of the word, skene, is the word used to translate the Hebrew word for Tabernacle.
There are three things we learn from this:
- The body of Christ is the Tabernacle of God. God dwells in flesh. Now that is us.
- God dwells among people, not buildings or theories.
- The Tabernacle is mobile and we are called to go where God leads into the world, not become rigid and bring people in.
The Gospel of John will continue to reveal among whom God dwells.
Jesus was angry over the exploitation of the people and the manipulation of the Temple.
Richard Rohr’s meditation talks about the alternate reality that Jesus brings. Rohr says,
I am told that there are three kinds of cultures in the Western world today, each with its own “bottom line”: political cultures based on the manipulation of power, economic cultures based on the manipulation of money, and religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God. These three cultures are based on different forms of violence, although it is usually denied by most participants and hidden from the superficial observer. Evil gains its power from disguise. Jesus undid the mask of disguise and revealed that our true loyalty was seldom really to God, but to power, money, and group belonging. (In fact, religion is often the easiest place to hide from God.)…Challenging the status quo is unpopular. Jesus was killed for opposing the religious and political powers of his time.
We celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. Dr. King was killed for speaking truth to power and being willing to challenge the institutions of power that systemically keep minority populations subjugated. I love the Tweet from the Bible Project this week.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we wanted to share our Read Scripture video on the book of Amos, Dr. King’s favorite book in the Bible. He even drew from passages in Amos when he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. https://t.co/zs44GlsSpB#TheBibleProject #MLKday pic.twitter.com/FMmNjRDOqa
— The Bible Project (@JoinBibleProj) January 15, 2018
My prayer is that I get angry over the same things that makes God angry, and that in my anger I don’t become the oppressor and continue the cycle of violence. Jesus didn’t do this. He absorbed the violence on the cross and overcame it with forgiveness.
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