We missed out on a favorite Holy Week story this year.
At some point between his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, Jesus visits the temple, only to find it overrun by merchants and money changers. The episode, generally referred to as “Jesus cleanses the temple,” is found in all four Gospel accounts, in varying degrees of detail, but with the same fundamentals. Here’s the passage from John 2:13-15:
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, with the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
And the more economical account from Matthew 21:12: “12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.”
What do you think is happening in this episode? Is Jesus acting in anger? If so, is it justified, or what you might call “righteous anger”? Where is the line between anger that is justified and anger that is destructive? How do we know when we’ve reached that line, or, perhaps more importantly, when we’ve crossed it?
Here’s another twist on the story to think about. As the Mennonite pastor and author Michael Pahl writes, the story of Jesus’ anger in the temple has been used to discount or even negate Christian teachings of pacifism and nonviolence. And Pahl says that’s a valid point, a useful caution to pacifists against prohibiting all physical violence. He goes in to much greater depth and nuance, but here’s a key point:
First, the point of both this instance of physical violence by Jesus and his uses of verbal violence recorded in the Gospels is the same, and it is crucial to grasp: in each case Jesus is sending a clear warning to the powers that be who are abusing their power over others.
This suggests that just as there may be a time when anger is not only justified, but righteous, so too with violence. How do you feel about that? Do you agree? And is that really the message of the account of Jesus cleansing the temple?
We’ll talk all about this, and likely more, in our conversation this evening. Join us for the discussion starting at 7pm tonight at Casa Real in downtown Oxford.