Lent 3B’24
3 March 2024
John 2.13-22
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+> 

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger;” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.   – from Ephesians 4.36


Best-selling author and researcher, Brene’ Brown conducted a five-year study with 7,000 participants on identifying human emotions. The study found that out of a possible 87 different human emotions most of the subjects could consistently only identify three emotions as they were feeling them:  Happiness, Sadness and Anger.[1] Out of those three emotions which one tends to be the most problematic? Anger.

This week I reviewed the table of contents in all the meditation books I’ve acquired over the years and found that there was no shortage of entries dealing with anger. What is about this human emotion that tends to trip all of us up in one way or the other? Most of our difficulties with anger start early in our families of origin. How was anger manifested in your family of origin? Did it show up with outbursts, insults, verbal, or physical abuse, or was it a taboo, that had to be swallowed and never outwardly expressed? Both of these expressions in modern day parlance would be considered to be either aggressive or passive and both can cause harm.

On the one hand aggressive expression can be explosive and on the other hand passive expression can lead to corrosive resentments that poisons the person from within. Therapists like the word “assertive” to describe a healthy balanced form of emotional expression where the emotion is directly and respectfully expressed – in short, name it, express it, and then, let it go. 

Jesus as a human being experienced every human emotion that we do, including anger.  The Eucharistic prayer we use during Lent says that Jesus “was tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin.”  He was able to live St. Paul’s directive to be angry, but do not sin.

In today’s gospel from John, we encounter an angry Jesus! The scene was quite a boisterous spectacle, and would lend itself quite well to a movie or TV show. On the temple property the court of the Gentiles was basically a wraparound porch encircled with an outer stone wall. So, imagine the noise level echoing between the stone outer wall and the wall of the inner court – there were bleating sheep and goats, cows mooing, doves cooing, and change clinking as it lands in the collection box, with raised voices haggling over prices. Not to mention the smells. People came from all over Israel to worship and as a part of their worship was to offer animal sacrifices. These animals according the law, had to be “without spot or blemish” and this is where the price gouging came in. The animals were inspected by temple authorities and if a blemish was found worshipers would be forced to pay exorbitant prices for an unblemished animal.  Jesus saw all of this temple enterprise, as the symptoms of a sick and outdated system.

To get the people’s attention it was going to take more than a voice shouting “the Lord be with you.” No, if Jesus wanted to get them to listen his actions would have to be much more dramatic.  Instead of counting to ten in an effort to cool his anger he found some materials at hand, sat down, and wove a whip of cords. He then arose and began turning the tables over with coins, coinboxes and tables crashing to the ground, scaring the animals and with Jesus cracking a whip, things were in an uproar. Jesus began to raise his voice:

“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

If this scene was in a movie there would need to be a disclaimer at the end, “no humans or animals were harmed in the making of this film.” Jesus expressed his anger without having to assault anyone he did make a lot of racket that got everyone’s attention and then got them moving out into the street.

Jesus was angry but did not sin. He did no harm to man or beast, but got their attention to make his point – God was about to do a new thing. The religious system was broken – God was about to enlarge God’s house to accommodate the Gentiles and in order to do this he was going to become the temple not made with hands where all would be chosen and gathered in God’s family. This signaled a spiritual demolition: Destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it in three days. It had taken 46 years to build this temple, what could Jesus be saying? This is where a literal translation can so miss the mark, we can see with perfect hindsight that he was speaking metaphorically. Jesus’ anger was not wrong – it was appropriate; it demonstrated what really mattered and was a way of claiming his authority and declaring who he was and what he was here to do. Poet David Whyte says this of anger: “Anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for…Anger truly felt at its center is the essential living flame of being fully alive and fully here.”[2]

Jesus was here to bring about the salvation, not of the chosen few, but for the whole world. Anger expressed appropriately was the tell-tale sign of what really matters. May we follow his example by not exploding or corroding, but by expressing assertively the anger for the things that really matter! Amen.

[1]  https://time.com/6122081/brene-brown-atlas-of-the-heart/

[2] Whyte, David, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, pp.13-16