When you go to Mass the weekend of November 8/9, you’ll hear the Gospel reading of the time when Jesus got so angry He trashed the Temple. He made a whip out of cords and drove all the sheep and oxen out of the area. Then He knocked over the moneychangers’ tables, scattering their coins in every direction. In short, He made a real mess of the place.
Some people look at this episode and say, “Shame, shame. Jesus ignored His own teachings by getting angry and not forgiving those moneychangers. He really lost his cool, didn’t He?”
At the same time other people view this episode as proof that it’s okay for us to get angry, and even take violent action if necessary, in doing God’s will.
Well, both views are wrong.
Anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and St. Paul clearly teaches in his letter to the Galatians that “outbursts of fury” are the result of our sinful nature. So what’s the deal here? Did Jesus give in to the sinful nature when He got angry in the Temple, or what?
First, we have to understand that Jesus did not have a sinful nature. There have only been three sinless people in history: Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and my mom.
There is a very fine line between “righteous anger” and “self-righteous anger.” Jesus’ anger was completely righteous. Those merchants were making a mockery of God’s holy temple. They were taking advantage of the average person’s sincere faith. Motivated by greed, they forced the believers to pay obscene sums in order to have their worship rituals labeled as “proper.”
You wonder what Jesus’ reaction might be if He appeared today and observed the behavior of Wall Street bankers and Washington politicians. Just sayin’.
Jesus is the only person in history completely controlled by the Spirit. He never gave in to the sinful human nature. The rest of us should avoid anger because we don’t have our sinful human nature under control like Jesus did.
The Gospel reading of Jesus clearing the Temple really should have a disclaimer. In big bold letters the Bible should say: “Jesus is a professional. Do not try this at home.” When people cite this episode as justification for getting angry, often they truly have a righteous goal in mind. But it doesn’t take long for that righteousness to slide into self-righteousness. The next thing you know, some looney tune is bursting into an abortion clinic with a rifle, sincerely convinced that God wants him kill people to prevent people from being killed.
All the while Satan is howling with glee. He just loves to see us get so worked up over a righteous cause that we become consumed with self-righteous anger. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “The devil would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer.”
In a way, anger is cancer. It’s spiritual cancer. For those of us who have not yet reached Jesus’ level of spirituality (which means ALL of us), we are susceptible to this disease. Only Jesus can handle anger without contracting the spiritual cancer of self-righteousness.
We mere mortals do not yet share in Jesus’ spiritual perfection. As such, we are not capable of handling anger properly. Good intentions quickly become evil. Anger in the hands of we sinful people, to paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, is like whiskey and car keys in the hands of teenage boys. It’s just too dangerous.
So when you hear the gospel reading this week, don’t think it’s a green light to be angry. Jesus is a professional. Do not try this at home.