As we begin Holy Week, I am reminded of Jesus’ “cleansing of the Temple.” In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), this is Jesus’ first act after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
The thing that strikes me the most about this incident is that Jesus is angry.
Most of us don’t normally associate Jesus with anger. And I think there is good reason for this: Jesus was the most gracious person who walked on the face of this planet. He treated sinners, tax collectors, the promiscuous, the outcasts, and the party animals with respect and love. He didn’t condone their behavior, but he also never treated them with disdain or disrespect.
But Jesus was no patsy either. He didn’t mince words in telling people the hard truth straight up. However, when Jesus confronted people with the truth he did so with compassion. I think about the Rich Young Man in Mark 10. As Jesus was about to confront him with the truth of his greed, it says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
So Jesus rarely got angry. That’s what makes His outburst in the Temple so unusual and profound. There were also a few other isolated instances that caused Jesus to be upset. I think it’s important to ask the question: what does make Jesus angry?
In the Temple incident, Jesus reacted to the use of religious power to exploit people. Poor people had to pay outrageous prices to exchange their currency into “temple money” and to pay inflated amounts for sacrificial animals. Jesus really hates injustice, especially in the Temple where people who claim to be godly are the perpetrators.
Another hot spot for Jesus was religious hypocrisy and spiritual pride. Jesus’ angry “seven woes” to the Pharisees (Matt 23) were directed at how they maintained their own standards of “holiness,” while being totally unholy in their attitudes toward others and never dealing with their own inner, hidden sins.
A third point of contention for Jesus was judgmentalism. Jesus warned strongly in Matthew 7 to not judge others, and to take out the “plank” in our own eyes before helping others take out a “splinter” in theirs. In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), it is interesting to note that Jesus’ anger was not directed toward the woman (although she did sin) but the men who judged her. Many scholars believe that Jesus’ mysterious writing in the dirt with his finger was an ancient form of “anger management.” He was pretty upset. In any case, you can sense Jesus’ contention with judgmentalism in his statement, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I think Jesus reacted so strongly to the sins of religious power plays, spiritual pride and judgmentalism because of how they turn peoples’ hearts “sideways.” The people who struggle with these sins are people who pursue God, but have been deceived by their concept of religion so as to actually work “against” the cause of God. It is an insidious Saul of Tarsus is a classic example of a man who thought he was doing God’s will but was really “kicking against the goads” (Acts 9:21). It angers Jesus, not because he hates people who commit these sins (Jesus loves everyone), but because of the insidious way these sins block out the True voice of God. These sins cause people to believe and justify what they are doing is right because it aligns with the “God of their own making” – not the God of Scripture. What makes it really bad is people who act this way often can quote Scripture better than anyone else; thus, making it even more difficult for the Spirit of God to break through.
And what’s really scary is that it’s easy for people like you and me to fall into this trap. People who are devoted to God’s will, God’s Word and God’s ways.
So as we examine our own “Temples” this week, what do we see?
Do we use religious power to take advantage of others? Are we spiritual bullies or manipulators? Do we even think about the subtle ways we use Christian language or concepts to justify things that hurt others? (Ouch!)
Is there spiritual pride or religious hypocrisy in our lives? Do we compensate our soul’s poverty by trying to earn spiritual brownie points and impress others? (Oof!)
And are we quick to judge others? Do we see our own brokenness or do we focus on how others are not measuring up to our personal standards? (Yowsa!)
If you’re like me, it’s scary to peek at what’s really inside of us. But if we are willing to take be courageous about our sins and brokenness, I know Jesus will give us the grace to do it. Like the Young Man who struggled with greed, He looks at us with loving eyes.
But if we don’t; if we choose to ignore, cover up, and continue in these small, poisonous patterns of life… ???
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me … a sinner.