Discover Anger

November 27, 2011

Not what we would expect at all.  We are closing in on the final act of the gospels and Jesus has come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the greatest of all the Jewish feasts.  On Sunday he arrived in Bethany and from there he rode a donkey into Jerusalem fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.  The crowds had flocked out to see him and waving palm branches, laying their coats before the donkey and singing his praises.  It was a great day.  That evening we are told that after he had visited the temple that he returns to Bethany, which is just outside of the city and then on Monday he makes his way back to the city and back to the temple.
And it is there he freaks out.  There are merchants in the temple courts selling animals for sacrifices and exchanging money so people from away will have the right currency to pay their temple tax.  It is a carnival atmosphere.  And it is like Jesus snaps. He was like a madman, tipping over tables, chasing animals, speaking in harsh tones.  Jesus was angry, angry!  And maybe some of you are thinking, “well maybe he was a little upset but I don’t think he was angry.” 
Nope, a little upset doesn’t tip over tables and chase animals, he was angry.
It is so out of character. Or at least out of the character that we hold so near and dear.  This isn’t the picture that comes to mind when most people think of Jesus.  They see him holding a lamb or holding a child, feeding the hungry or healing the sick.  They see his hands as gentle and caring.  I’m sure that in most people’s minds they would expect the hands of Jesus to be soft and tender and not the hands of a carpenter, who worked without the benefit of power tools. 
And while that has to be a part of the picture of Jesus is it the entire picture?  Most of us have a home page for our internet browsers mine is Canoe.ca  Goes way back to when most of the news sites were American and Canoe came along and they had bill boards up that said “Don’t surf the net canoe it.”  But that is a different story for a different time.  Part of the canoe site is a photo of the day and it shows a snippet of a photo in a box and it is remarkable sometimes when you click on the photo and it expands and it isn’t anything like you thought it would be.
It is the same picture but you aren’t seeing the entire picture.  And sometimes we are guilty of doing that with God and Jesus.  We are only seeing a part of his character and are basing our assumptions about him on that one part of the picture. 
And so for some people Jesus is only gentle and caring, he never raises his voice and never gets angry.  True, they see him as the good shepherd but a shepherd who only cuddles and coddles his sheep and never disciplines them and never corrects them and would never ever raise his voice in dealing with them.  He is a non-judging, non-demanding, non-condemning  and he lets the sheep do whatever it is the sheep want to do, and never says “You are a bad sheep”.
He is a Jesus who was always understanding, always accommodating and never correcting and certainly never condemning.  And so while we can see this Jesus as opening up a dialogue with those in the temple who were selling animals and changing money and perhaps coming to a meeting of the minds we find it really difficult to get our heads around this scene that is described in detail in all four of the gospels.
It is the day after the triumphant entry, the day after Palm Sunday and it is only four days away from Jesus eventual arrest, trial and crucifixion.  After his grand entrance the day before we are told that Jesus had returned to Bethany, where he spent the night.  Now Jesus has returned to Jerusalem and makes a bee line for the temple which is where our story picks up.
But before we look at the story let’s look at the back story.
The temple that is spoken of is Solomon’s Temple; it had been an integral of Jerusalem for more than five hundred years since it was built by King Solomon, David’s son until it was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.  Understand that we don’t have anything in Canada that was built 500 years old. 
The temple occupied the top of the top of Mount Zion; it covered an area of almost 30 acres and contained several distinct areas.  Let’s pull up some pictures.  Here is where the temple sat in relation to the city of Jerusalem during Jesus ministry, as you can see it dominates the entire city, that site is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock Mosque.  Here is what it would look like if it was built out of lego and here is a replica that you can see in Norfolk Virginia, It was constructed over a thirty year period by Alec Garrard, which was 23 years longer than it took to build the original. 
This large outer court was called the court of Gentiles and anyone could come into the court of the Gentiles.  We are told that at the inner edge of the Court of the Gentiles was a low wall with tablets set into it and in theory if a Gentile, that is someone who was not a Jew passed that point the penalty was death.  The next area was called the Court of Women and that was as far as a woman was allowed to go unless they had actually come to offer a sacrifice.  Next was the Court of the Israelites, here was where the big celebrations were held and it was here that the sacrifices were given to the Priests to be made.  And that was the next area the Court of the Priests and within that was the Holy of Holys where we are told the High Priest went to commune with God.
And it was here in the Court of Gentiles that this entire drama took place.  Historically we are told that the businesses that set up in the court of the Gentiles were businesses of opportunity, especially at Passover.  This was the celebration that the faithful tried to be in Jerusalem; as a matter of fact we are told that even today the Passover celebration finishes with the words:  Next Year in Jerusalem.  And so the city was filled with pilgrims and the temple was alive with different dialects and accents.  And while it was really neat that people would travel from far off places to celebrate it was problematic in a couple of ways.  First of all if they were coming to the Temple for the Passover they would have to offer a sacrifice of a dove and secondly they would have to pay the temple tax of a half a shekel paid using a specific currency.  Not a problem if you lived in Jerusalem but if you were travelling any distance it would be difficult to bring a dove suitable for the sacrifice with you and the coin that was to be used to pay the temple tax was fairly specific to that area and so often times travellers would have to get their money changed.  That’s the short part of the story.  So stalls were set up where you could buy doves and where you could get your money changed, but if you’ve ever been in a market you understand that people are raising their voices and cajoling customers to buy their doves instead of their neighbors and people are jostling and laughing, haggling over prices and cursing what they had to pay.  People are now using the temple courts as short cuts to get to various parts of Jerusalem and the reverence has been replaced with convenience.
And it is into this scene that Jesus stepped the day after his triumphant entry and just four days before he would be arrested, tried in the mockery of a trial and crucified.  So let’s pick up the story in Mark 11:15-16 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.
Listen to the verbs here:  Drive out, Knocked over, Stopped everyone.  Sounds like he was a little ticked off, a little put out, maybe a little angry with what was happening.  And that doesn’t sound like the Jesus that we are taught about.  The gentle, compassionate, never angry, never condemning Jesus.  And that is confusing, because we are told that we shouldn’t get angry, and that anger is wrong. 
Buddha said “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”
While Madeleine Brent wrote “Anger and worry are the enemies of clear thought.”  And Ralph Waldo Emerson   offered us excellent advice when he wrote “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”  And here are words of great wisdom from Ambrose Bierce, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”   I’ve given those speeches. 
The bible even weighs in on the subject when Solomon wrote in Proverbs 22:24-25 Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.   And again in  Proverbs 29:22 An angry person starts fights; a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin.
And most of us think of anger as a “Sin”.  “Forgive me because I got angry” we pray or we tell the person on the other end of our anger “I’m sorry I was angry.”    And so now we have this dichotomy to deal with.  We perceive anger to always be wrong and to be sinful behaviour and yet we see Jesus acting in a way that seems to be angry.  And there are multiple instances in the scriptures with God being angry, and that is the word that is used “angry”  not a little put out or mildly annoyed but angry. 
Passages like Psalm 7:11 God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day. Or in the New Testament John 3:36 And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”
Perhaps the truth lies in the words of Aristotle who said “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.”
So here are some questions we can ask ourselves about Anger and perhaps we can find some answers in this story.
What makes you Angry?  And probably I could get a whole range of answers here.  Some would be appropriate and some would be wildly inappropriate.  I read a news story the other day about a guy who was in court in Ontario charged with Road Rage, actually he was charged with a whole range of things but bottom line it was road rage. 
Someone had cut him off in traffic, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, and buddy forces him off the road with his truck, rams the offending vehicle a couple of times and then grabs a chain saw and threatens the other driver with it. 
Do you get angry in traffic?  In the Parking lot?  In the supermarket when someone cuts you off with their cart?  Do you get angry because of the way people treat you?  Because of some slight, either real or imaginary? 
Why was Jesus angry here?  I think there are a couple of reasons, the most obvious is found in   Mark 11:17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
He was angry because people were disrespecting God’s temple and making a mockery of God’s rules.  What was supposed to be a Holy place had become an everyday place, what had been set aside as a place to worship God had become a place to worship money.  And because of that people’s relationship with God were in jeopardy.  And that made Jesus angry.
That was why Jesus was upset with the Pharisee, they were putting religion ahead of people and putting roadblocks between people and God.  Once when Jesus was teaching some parents tried to bring their children to him to be blessed and his disciples scolded them for interrupting Jesus while he was teaching and then we read in Mark 10:14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”
When people and churches stand between others and God that should make us angry in the same way it made Jesus angry.   When people are more concerned with their preferences and their comfort rather than reaching out to those who need Jesus, that is a reason to become cranky and when people and churches that call themselves “Christians” do a disservice to Jesus’ name and nature by being rude and bitter, that should make us angry.
But there was a second reason that isn’t as obvious but just as valid, and I understand that this is speculation but I think Jesus was upset over the fact that those who were supposed to be leading people to God were taking advantage of them. 
These were pilgrims who had travelled a long way to be able to worship God in the temple and they were being ripped off.  Historians tells us that the same dove that was being sold in the temple court yard could be purchased outside the temple for a fraction of the price, but coincidently the same people who benefitted from the sale of the doves inside the temple were the ones who had to inspect the ones from outside to make sure they would be suitable.  Can you say “conflict of interest”?
And the temple tax had to be paid in a certain currency, the principle had been laid down that the tax was paid for the upkeep of the temple, and that was a good principle the temple needed to be maintained and that needed to be paid for by those who used it.  But then the principle was distorted and became a burden.  Because now it wasn’t enough that the right amount be paid but it had to be paid in the right currency.  So while other currency was used outside the temple the priests insisted on a certain type of currency.  When the pilgrims came they had to get their money changed.  And if it was a straight exchange then the rate was about 20% but if you needed change back the rate doubled.  And so Jesus was angry because people were being taken advantage of.
What was happening was legal, but was it right?   Personally I think Jesus would be a little cranky over what happens in the name of business and commerce in our society today.  When companies ask the rank and file to make wage concessions and give up benefits and then give their executives million dollar bonuses, I can understand the anger there.   And I don’t think it would be billion dollar bailouts that he would have had in mind for the big banks and wall street, just saying.
But here is a rule of thumb, If you are getting angry over your feelings or over your stuff, you are probably getting angry over the wrong things. 
Understand that Jesus didn’t lose his temper, he got angry.  Which leads us to the next question.
How Do You respond In Your Anger? This is a matter of time and degree.  Sometimes people get angry and their response is way over the top.  If you lash right out you have probably reacted the wrong way.  Which is why  Thomas Jefferson cautioned people “When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”
There was something in this account that I just picked up last week.  At the end of the scripture that I spoke on last week was this line:  Mark 11:11 So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.   And then we pick up the story the next day Mark 11:15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices.  Wow, he must have seen what was happening, left and figured out what his response should be and then came back. 
John’s account of Jesus in the temple comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and there has been debate over whether it was the same incident or a separate incident, and I can say categorically it could have been the same incident or a separate incident.  But there is a neat line there in John’s account.  John 2:15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.   I wonder in that account if the taking the time to braid the rope together was his way of counting to ten.
If you find yourself reacting immediately in anger, you are probably in the wrong.  You are letting your anger control you instead of controlling your anger, which is why the bible tells us in Ephesians 4:26-27 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
It was Phyllis Diller who said “Never go to bed angry, stay up and fight.”  I’m not sure that is what the Bible had in mind.  Because if you aren’t controlling your anger then your anger is controlling you.
And then find out how you deal with what makes you angry.  Remember when the disciples wouldn’t let the children come to Jesus and he got angry?  What did he do?  He taught the disciples what their correct response should be and then he blessed the children.
What can you do about what makes you angry?  How do you correct it, how do you deal with it?  Can you be part of the solution?
The other thing to note is that there was no personal violence in Jesus’ response, granted he set animals free and scattered coins but there is nothing to indicate that he struck anyone, that he hurt anyone.
Martin Luther King Jr. was angry, Mahatma Ghandi was angry, Timothy McVeigh was angry and Osama Bin Laden was angry.  Two will go down in history as heroes two will always be villains.
The scriptures don’t tell us not to be angry but they do warn us in Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”
Do You Understand The Price Of Your Anger?  There is an old saying that there is only one letter difference between “anger” and “danger”.  The guy in Ontario who responded in anger to being cut off in traffic, you remember the guy with the chain saw?  He’s going to jail.
I can’t count the marriages that I have watched dissolve because of an angry spouse.  Sometimes situations where there was abuse but often just times where the other partner just got tired of the anger and venom that was being spewed. 
Jesus got angry over what was happening in the temple, and he responded after thinking about it and without violence.  And the result?  A lesson was taught, not just for that specific point in time but for the next two thousand years.  The temple courts were cleared at least temporarily and I’m sure that some of those who were chased out examined their motives.  But what else happened?  Mark 11:18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
This was the tipping point in Jesus ministry.  The lives of African American’s was changed irrevocably for the better because of the anger of Martin Luther King Jr.  India’s future was changed because of the anger of Ghandi and they paid the price with their lives.
You get angry over abortion, or poverty or social injustice, or people disrespecting God and his name and voice your anger and there will be a price to be paid.  Chances are that you won’t be killed, but it might be the way people view you, or it might be a promotion or it might be contempt.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get angry about those things, it just means that you need to be aware that there is often a price to be paid.  Remember the words of Edmund Burke who wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 
Anger has been the catalyst that has changed our world for the better.  Agree with them or not it might be the anger of the “occupy movement” that causes people to take a closer look at corporate greed and what big corporations are willing to do in the name of profits.  After all the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley got angry over child labour and the founders of the Wesleyan Church go angry over Slavery.  But it can’t be repeated enough: Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”