If you have a picture in your head of ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild’ then today’s Gospel ought to make you get rid of it straight away. If you think of Jesus as some sort of namby-pamby figure then I suggest you think again.
Where this widespread idea comes from I do not know, but it certainly is not in accord with what the scriptures tell us about Jesus. It is most likely a 19th Century invention and probably comes from the sort of edifying pictures the Victorians thought were appropriate to childhood nurseries in middle class households.
But this kind of image of a sweet and saccharine Jesus is really quite subversive and does true religion no good whatever. What it does is turn our Divine Saviour into a weak-minded do-gooder. It strips him of his divinity and turns him into a kind of inoffensive romantic individual with a nice sideline in miracles.
This is not Jesus. This is not the Christ of the Gospels. This is not the Saviour who died for us on Calvary. And this is certainly not the Christ who drove the money changers out of the Temple.
Catholic doctrine has from the earliest times taught that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. And if he is true man then he is a full person with all the emotions and all the moods and all the feelings that constitute a real and authentic human being.
So, we should immediately put out of our heads the meek and mild individual of the holy pictures in the nursery. It says in today’s extract from St John’s Gospel, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ To be consumed with zeal implies someone who is firing on all cylinders. It implies someone who puts every ounce of energy into their emotions and desires.
As always, we can learn from Our Lord. And the lesson today surely is that we should not be afraid of our emotions and we should feel free to give them appropriate expression.
I suppose the one emotion most people are afraid of is anger. We don’t like to be in the company of angry people and like it even less when we ourselves are overwhelmed by what we perceive as the most destructive of the emotions.
Actually, I’m not sure that anger is the most destructive of the emotions; I tend to think that jealousy is far worse. But as we say, there is a time and a place for everything and what we see today in the Gospel is anger appropriately and justifiably expressed by Jesus.
The scene described by John misses out some important background information that might help us to understand the reason for Jesus’ anger. Because of the rules for ritual purity the people could only make their offering to the Temple in Jewish currency and not in the money in ordinary circulation.
Hence the need for moneychangers who of course charged a hefty commission. And, no doubt, licences to offer money changing in the Temple precincts cost a pretty penny payable, of course, to the Temple authorities.
Jesus was right; his Father’s house had been turned into a den of thieves. And anger was the appropriate response.
The key to Jesus’ anger is to be found in the first reading. “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me.”
This is the first and most important of the Ten Commandments. It forbids belief in false Gods or the worship of idols. Now in those days this was understood in a very straightforward manner and became institutionalised in the sacrifices offered in the Temple.
But Jesus is not content with mere outward conformity to the Law of God; what he wants is interior obedience, obedience of the heart. These merchants are clearly serving not God but themselves. Their aim is not true worship of the unseen God but the accumulation of money. And worse of all this involves the exploitation of the poor and devout.
This is what makes Jesus angry and leads him to clear them from the Temple. But the direct consequence of the Cleansing of the Temple was Christ’s arrest and death on the Cross. Indeed, in his remarks about destroying the Temple and it being raised up in three days Jesus makes it quite clear that he is fully aware of the consequences.
It was this intervention into what they regarded as their territory that upset the Temple authorities. From that moment they were determined to do away with this “usurper”.
It was not Jesus’ anger that was inappropriate it was the anger of the Temple authorities that was totally out of place. These people were supposed to be guarding the faith of Israel against the worship of false Gods, and yet they end up killing the very Son of God. If this is not the greatest irony of all time then I don’t know what is!
Just going back to our own anger and how to deal with it; as we have said anger or any other emotion can never be sinful in itself. It is the thoughts and actions that flow from our emotions that can be destructive and therefore sinful.
If we experience anger or jealousy or any other strong and potentially destructive emotion we need to find appropriate ways to express it without falling into sin. We need to release the emotion without making things worse and this is not easily done. Often when we experience strong emotions our judgement becomes clouded and we are then unable to distinguish rights from wrongs.
The key I suppose is not what we do when we are angry but what we do when we are calm. That is not what we do in those few moments when we are filled with strong emotions but what we do all the rest of the time when we are in a normal and steady frame of mind.
If we normally take the trouble to see the other person’s point of view, if over a long period we try to develop an inclination towards tranquillity, if we consistently try to follow the teachings of the Beatitudes in our ordinary lives then when we do fly off the handle our anger will be short lived and we will be unlikely to do anything rash.
As it says at the end of our text today, “he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.” From this we understand that Jesus knows all there is to know about human nature. Perhaps it is us who still have a lot to learn.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket