Ex 20:1-17(20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17); 1Cor 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. The Church invites us to continue our reflection on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection as we share in this Paschal Mystery. If we go back to the readings, especially the gospels, of the past two Sundays of Lent, I can say that they are interconnected. On the First Sunday, after His Baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the desert. He stayed there for forty days and forty nights in prayer, fasting and was tempted by the devil. But God came to His rescue through His angels. I call this as Jesus’ desert experience with God. On the Second Sunday, Jesus brought His three disciples on the top of the mountain and Jesus there changed in appearance while praying. I call this as the mountaintop experience of Jesus in His encounter with God. Today’s gospel is the cleansing of the temple by Jesus. The temple is a place of special encounter with God. In other words, the desert, the mountain and the temple are places of special encounter with God.
But today we are not going to see the glorious face of Jesus; we are going to see His angry face. Jesus is not happy with what He sees precisely because the way the temple worship has been organized no longer reflects God’s original idea of a worshipping community. He found people selling animals and exchanging money in His Father’s house. Making a whip, Jesus drives the animals out and overturns the table of the money changers. Jesus loses His cool. Jesus losing His cool is something that is unthinkable. It could not have happened because we know Jesus as meek, humble, merciful, compassionate, kind and loving. For us to lose His cool is simply out of His character.
Jesus gets angry for two reasons. First is He gets with the way the religious administrators of temple worship administer it. Actually, if we look at it, there is no reason for Jesus to get angry. It is because the cattle, sheep and doves sell by the merchants are all intended for sacrifice in the temple. By selling them in the temple area, it really makes the pilgrims convenient since they need not go to far places to buy them and the same with the moneychangers. But Jesus gets angry of what they do and says to them: “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade,” (v. 16). His reason in saying these words can be: His compassion for the poor people who are being exploited by them. Many of these had traveled from afar. The men were carrying their sacrificial lambs on their shoulders, the women carrying their sacrificial doves in little cages. And also, irreverence of the temple worship and abuses tolerated by the religious authorities. For them pleasing God had become something you do in the rituals of the Temple and not in your relationship with people. This kind of religiosity makes Jesus really angry.
Just like this story of a priest who was coming back to his parish house one evening in the dark only to be accosted by a robber who pulled a gun at him and demanded, “Your money or your life!” As the priest reached his hand into his coat pocket the robber saw his Roman collar and said, “So you are a priest? Then you can go.” The priest was rather surprised at this unexpected show of piety and so tried to reciprocate by offering the robber his packet of cigarettes, to which the robber replied, “No, Father, I don’t smoke during Lent.” You can see how this robber is trying to keep the pious observance of not smoking during Lent while forgetting the more fundamental commandment of God, “You shall not steal.”
The second reason why Jesus gets angry with the Temple priests was their practice of temple exclusivity. According to what I have read about the temple from a homily also, that the temple has five sections or courts: (1) holy of holies (2) court of priests (3) court of Israel (4) court of women (5) court of Gentiles. Though these were seen as five concentric circles of sanctity, the design made room for everybody in the house of God. It was a universal house of God “for all the nations” where every man or woman on earth would find a place in which to pray. But the Temple priests forgot that and thought that it was meant for Jews alone. So they decided to turn the court of the Gentiles into a “holy” market place for selling the animals required for sacrifice and for exchanging money. You could bring Roman money as far as the court of the Gentiles but not into the other four courts. The court of Gentiles was no longer regarded as part and parcel of the house of God, it had become a market place, pure and simple. Now it was this court of Gentiles that Jesus cleansed. In so doing he was making the point that the Gentile section was just as holy as the Jewish sections. God is God of all and not God of a select group. Like the Jews of the time of Jesus, some Christians today still think that God belongs to them alone and not to others as well.
But these Sunday’s gospel reminds us also that it is right to get angry in defense of what is good and for the right of others. Yes we have to get angry when confronted with obvious injustices and exploitations in our midst. It is another story. It is okay to get angry if these are the reasons. Go ahead! But to get angry in order to get even or to cover up for our insecurities, that is another story and we don’t have the right to get angry.
That is why we need to manage our anger. In the book of Proverbs, it says: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who captures a city,” (16:32).
An author gives suggestions on how to manage our anger and she named it the, ABCs of Anger Management.
First is, Admit that you are not perfect yourself. We get angry because our standard for others is so high and yet when it comes to ourselves, we are so gracious and forgiving. But all of us are not perfect and so let us stretch more our rope of patience for other people.
Second is Before flaring up, check if you have a contribution to the problem that angers you. Jesus reminds us to get the log out of our own eye. Before getting angry with the other person, get the log out of our own eye and think that maybe we are part of the problem too.
Third is Control your emotion and your tone of voice. If we need to vent our anger, do it on something rather than on someone. It is because we do it on someone, you get a problem more. Vent your anger on something like: exercise, treadmill, writing journal and others that you like.
Fourth is Decide not to sin in your anger. If we get angry, it does mean that we commit sin immediately because anger is a legitimate emotion. Even the Bible recognizes it. But the Bible discourages us from sinning in our anger and so let us not allow ourselves to remain in our anger because anger can destroy relationships. Let us decide not to commit sin in our anger.
Fifth is Learn to Exhale. This is very simple, practical and very helpful. Learn to exhale, that is, breathe in and breathe out. We also need to exhale a prayer to God.
Here’s a simple prayer for those who get angry: “Calm the anger in my heart, Lord. Help me to release it unto You. Calm the anger in my heart. Show me hope that You are there. You’re the One who changes hearts. Help me let You do it, Lord.”
See Today’s Readings: Year B