I used to like this reading when it came around during the three year cycle. I gave me a chance to think about the role of anger in my own life. My generation of women believed that it was wrong to show anger to others. It was far better to be the peace maker in the family and in groups. When the priest read the Gospel about Jesus getting angry at a religious site, it forced me to think that anger was something that Jesus approved of. But, I could never reconcile the peaceful Jesus I read and heard in the gospel with the one that I was told about the angry Jesus in the temple.
Times have changed and I have changed. I know now that expressing anger is a normal emotion and that it has to be measured but expressed. I am so glad that I have been able to study this passage for several weeks to see another dimension of the action of Jesus and understand more fully why John and the other writers of the Gospel included this story.
Let me give you some background of this story in John. This Temple was by Solomon in 950 BCE. It was a very large place with an inner temple and a large outer space called porticoes that were a meeting area. People were directed to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. There they were instructed to go into the temple, the holy place, and pray. The temple site itself was God's House and was regarded as holy ground. Jesus was going to the temple to pray and to fulfill his obligation of Passover. When he got to the temple he became outraged at what he saw there.
Instead of seeing calm and prayful people entering the holy temple he saw sheep, oxen, and doves in cages ready to be sold. He saw tables filled with coins. The people in the outer porticoes were taking advantage of the common folk who were coming and were charging extraordinary prices for the offering of livestock and doves. Jesus shouted to these sellers" Take these (livestock) out of here, and stop making my Father's house a market place". Jesus also noticed that the tables were piled high with coins. These money changers were taking advantage of poor pilgrims who had come from different parts of the land around the Mediterranean who had different coinage than in Israel. They were forced to change their money for the Jewish shekel. When changing their money, these merchants were motivated by greed and were setting a very high exchange rate for these poor tourists that had come so far. They also charged these poor pilgrims extremely high selling prices for the animals and doves. And in reality no sacrifices of animals were needed in order to pray in the temple.
Jesus saw that the merchants were motivated by greed. These merchants were only interested in stealing from the poor. Remember that most of the poor were uneducated and did not understand fully what their rights were. But Jesus knew and that is why he took action. He was filled with compassion for the poor because they had no advocate. He was enraged at the greed and the lack of caring for the disenfranchised that had come to the temple to pray. No leaders of the temple were taking any interest in the commotion and corruption that was happening right outside God's house. They allowed it to continue.
Lack of compassion for God's people was the reason that Jesus became so angry. He felt so strongly about this lack that he used a whip made of cords to drive them out. When have we felt so strongly about an issue that lacked compassion to the poor and disenfranchised that we became angry and took some action? I want to suggest some opportunities we might have to look differently at people and find ways to respond to these people with compassion and love.
First of all we need to be more compassionate to ourselves and do what we can to make our lives healthier, more fruitful, and more filled with hope. Some of us today know that we are living with depression, grief, addiction, and guilt that are keeping us down and pessimistic. Can we respond with action to get some help, talk to our doctor, and ask for help with our concerns so we can become the whole person we were meant to be?
Secondly, can we become more compassionate to the poor who suffer monetarily, and emotional, and spiritually within our midst. They might be our neighbors, friends, or perfect strangers. If you watch the news at night there are certain stories of needless neglect of children. Have we ever intervened to see what we can do about their care?
Thirdly, many of the people of Good Shepherd have responded to the needs of the poor with the organization, Family Promise. To work with these poor and needy requires great compassion and time to meet these people's needs. Listening to them with ears of love and interest is such a great help. We never know when we might be the next family who is homeless.
Some people might prefer to work with organizations that could be political, social, and/or medical in the state, nation, or around the world. Everyone has the right and responsibility to work in organizations that they feel are legitimate and that they are called by God to participate in. It is not enough to see the needs of people and then walk away. Action is required to change lives. We should feel angry or disturbed when we see injustice in the world. It is our responsibility to find out more about the situation and then find ways that we could act.
Should we act in every situation that needs help? Certainly not! We would neglect our duties of home and family. All of us need to listen to God speak to us. Then we need to take action and move forward. Not all of the people here at Good Shepherd will respond to the needs of the poor in the same way. God speaks in different ways and calls us to respond in select ways. There must be no judgment of others if they are called by God to act in a different way than we would. We must allow the Holy Spirit to roam freely and actively. Not everyone hears the same message of the Spirit.
We know for certain that Jesus wants us to act with compassion to the poor, the needy, the disadvantaged, the weak, and the neglected. If you have ever been in this position or are in this position now I know you are waiting to be touched by others. Speak out your needs to allow others to help. You will doing everyone a favor if you allow others to help. We all need help at times and you will be doing us all a favor if you allow us to meet your needs.
Jesus is a compassionate God who uses us to help those in need. If you ask for a compassionate heart, be assured that you will be flooded by requests.