As some of you know I have a temper. It has been the bane of my existence for most of my life my life and has gotten me into more trouble. I thought that when I came to love Christ, that that penchant for getting angry would miraculously disappear. It didn’t. When it didn’t and sheer willpower didn’t dissipate the anger, I knew I need to find some way to reconcile my temper with the Gospel.
Finally I found this passage in the Gospels and said “Ahhh, Jesus got angry too!” And I used this passage to justify my ‘righteous anger’ because it was ‘what Jesus would do’. Now, this is not the way that Christians use Scripture as a way to transform their lives. And until I finally learned that anger is a normal human emotion and you can’t help the feelings of anger, you can only direct your actions, then I made peace with the anger, and it doesn’t control me as it once did.
But Jesus was not a meek and mild man. He was a man who was angered by injustice and acted upon it. But today’s reading has a new understanding due to archeology that I want to share with you. And it gives us new insight as to why Jesus was angry.
We know that this story about Jesus was based upon a real incident. All four gospels tell it in some way. In John’s gospel there is a bit more information on the incident and in it we get the idea that this one action did provoke the leaders of the Imperial army and the Herodians to plot the death of Jesus.
But why was Jesus angry? There are several things going on in this story. Most of us have heard that the money changers were being dishonest, or selling tschotskies like they do in cathedrals everywhere. But that wasn’t the issue. Some of us have heard that sacrificial offerings were sold on the temple grounds. That’s true but still not the issue. We may have even heard that the temple tax had to be paid with money that did not have a Caesar’s image on it as did Roman coins; ergo one had to change their money with the usurious money changers. And while that was true, it was still not the reason for the Jesus’ quote from Psalm 69:9 “zeal for my father’s house consumes me”.
The Temple mount was huge, on the order of Fair Park. The first court of the Temple was for the goyim (the ‘nations’ in Hebrew). And from its inception, the Temple was to be a place of pilgrimage for all nations. The Jews were chosen so that they could teach the rest of the world about their God. From the time of Genesis, the People of Israel were to bring all people blessing. Therefore all people, no matter their faith, could come to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray to the one God. But because of the commercial endeavors, the court for the goyim—the nations, was being choked out. There were shops and booths set up and crowds of hawkers. It was no longer a place for them to be prayerful. There was a smaller court just for Jews. Here the money changers were not allowed. Here the sale of sacrificial animals was not allowed. And a new archaeological find shows a sign from the time of Jesus that was on the wall separating the Court of the Goyim and the Court of the Jews that said something to the effect: “Anyone entering this court who is not a Jew, his blood is on his own hands”. So much for Radical Hospitality!
Jesus was from the Galilee. He was a country bumpkin. He was not a part of the ‘Jewish establishment of Jerusalem’ and many of the elite thought themselves to be above the Galileans. Jesus was appalled by the exclusionary message that was being sent to the people who had come to pray to the Holy One of Israel. He lost his temper and ran the vendors and the money changers out and turned over their tables to clear a place for ALL nations to come to pray. Jesus’ zeal was for a place where people could know God and make God known. Jesus was trying to return the Temple to what is was supposed to be.
This story is really quite timely for us here in this diocese. We are in the process of trying to recapture what it means to be Episcopalian in this area when we have been told by folk that the Episcopal Church is no longer Christian, or no longer Anglican. Or whatever message that was once conveyed here. We have been told that there is only ONE way to worship or ONE way to be or only ONE way to behave to be REAL Episcopalians or Anglicans. And if there is one message that the history of Christianity and Anglicanism portrays is that there is more than one way to worship, one way to believe and one way to know the Holy in our lives.
In our Bible Study last Wed. we were talking about the profound experience of God that some had had in their lives. Folks tried to describe it but could only begin to approximate in words the power of that moment. We struggled to find words, but we could see in each other’s faces “the zeal for my Father’s house” consuming them. Each experience was different but we understood the holiness that each had touched. We were a group of people who had known, if for a brief moment, that we had experienced the love of God in a way that we could barely describe. We all nodded and smiled. We all had known that moment when we had been overwhelmed with the “zeal for the Father’s house”.
When I got home from class, I received a post from a priest-friend who is presently visiting a colleague in Thailand. This is the first time she has ever been in a Buddhist country and so she went to a local religious festival. She found herself following the procession—a mini pilgrimage and then went into sit in silent meditation in the Buddhist temple. She spoke first of the discomfort being in a tradition not her own, but in the meditation she knew of Christ’s presence with the Buddha and her aversions were assuaged. She was so moved by the images in her meditation that she began to weep and the people around her gathered close to her knowing that she was experiencing something of holy goodness. They did not understand the same language but they understood each other’s expression of the Holy. Holy love goes way beyond word or images or music or any human expression, but it can be communicated without any of those.
All too often we try to order our emotions, our experiences our lives so that we can control them. But the Spirit does not allow us to do that. This does not mean that we do not have to discipline our faith lives. I had to learn that I couldn’t exhibit my anger if I was going to really be a witness to Christ’s love. But all too often we want to control our faith—to tame it, as it were. ( I often think that it is sort of like the line "There's no crying in baseball" when Episcopalians touch the Divine in worship. We do want too much emotion shown.) But the God who loves us more than life calls us to touch that moment in which all the world and all the Holy come together. God invites us to experience justice deeply, welcome intimately, enjoy beauty, love faithfully, glory in joy when All becomes One.
Jesus knew that excluding others was not the way to the Father. We know that exclusion of others does not proclaim the welcome that God has for each and every one of us. Christianity is not about knowing the right dance steps or when to stand, sit or kneel. It is about the kind of hospitality that says “you are home in God’s place.”
So I too want to invite you to a holy and HAPPY Lent—a time when you can recall those incredible moments of God’s blessing and you can find in yourself the ways of discipline that allow them to happen. May this time be filled with those incredible moments when the zeal for God's Holy indwelling consume us. AMEN