Rev. Heather Blais
Sometimes, anger is a good thing. In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us there are times for a holy anger. Like all faith traditions, Jewish practices around God’s law evolved over time. Certain animal sacrifices were required when offering a thanksgiving; for seeking purity after a time of impurity; or for seeking forgiveness of sin. The law required that the animals be unblemished, and the way temple priests could ensure this was if they had some say in where those animals were purchased. As a result, in front of the temple was a marketplace. You could purchase unblemished animals for sacrifice. You could also exchange your Roman coins, which proclaimed Caesar as God, for another type of coin, a tyre, in order to enter the temple.
Today’s gospel lesson is in all four gospels. Given the tone in the other three gospels, where Jesus refers to the marketplace as a ‘den of robbers’, I think it’s safe to assume there was some corruption in the temple. Which is part of the reason we see a righteous anger that Jesus rarely unleashes. He pours out the coins of the moneychangers, overturns their tables, and drives all the vendors away from the temple. He tells the vendors selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”(John 2:16).
Jesus is angry about the corruption religious leaders have allowed and participated in. By setting up the marketplace in front of the temple, requiring people to purchase their sacrifice from marketplace vendors, and the requirement of dealing with money changers, pushes God further from people’s reach. It also makes the temple leaders seem more concerned with making a profit than with helping connect people with God. They’ve gotten their priorities a bit askew.
Jesus is also angry that people don’t seem to understand God’s nature and why he is there. When the people in the crowd ask him, “What signs can you show us...?” he responds by telling them he will, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2: 18-19).
But since the temple had been under construction for the last forty-six years, they blew him off as some self-righteous show off. Yet after he was raised from the dead, his disciples, and all of us, know what he really meant. He meant himself. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is God incarnate. Jesus is the temple that is destroyed and raised up again on the third day. Jesus is what will consume our hearts with zeal. Once Jesus is on the scene, there is no more need for sacrifice. It means God will interact with us in a whole new way, God becomes accessible in a way that was not possible under the temple system. Instead of sacrifices in the temple, God comes to meet us where we are.
Jesus felt that temple life, limiting access to God, was an injustice, particularly given in John’s gospel, Jesus already knew exactly who he was and why he was there. Why didn’t everyone else understand this? But we’re human, and need a few dozen memos for this kind of news to sink in--so the temple authorities and the crowd did not quite understand what Jesus was so worked up about. They didn’t understand his very presence meant God was already with them and they didn’t need to pay a tyre to enter the temple or purchase an unblemished sacrifice to be forgiven. God was with them, right then and there.
Like Jesus, we sometimes get angry when we witness injustice. I remember feeling stunned and angry after Columbine. Yet after years of politicians arguing about gun control, very little changed, as the list of school shootings grew exponentially long. I remember feeling heartbroken and outraged after Sandy Hook. The image of those small children startled our country into a bit of action, but still the arguing in Washington ensued, limiting how much change was possible, and the list of school shootings grew to an unacceptable length. By the time Parkland happened this past Ash Wednesday, I felt too weary to be angry, at least at first. But then, for the first time in my memory, the students, the most recent victims, harnessed their righteous and holy anger and have spoken up in a way I have rarely seen. They have turned on the heat in a way no one else could, a way that may finally lead to much necessary change.
I’d like to read you a letter from the Episcopal Bishops of Massachusetts, including our own Bishop Doug Fisher.
From Lamentation to Action: Joint Statement from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts March 1, 2018.
We have all had enough of our children dying in their classrooms. We have had enough of mass shootings in which a semi-automatic rifle was the weapon of choice.
They lurk in ambush in public squares
And in secret places they murder the innocent;
They spy out the helpless (Psalm 10:8).
We have all had enough of the cycle of trauma, shock, anger, grief and numbness, fatigue and inaction. As followers of Jesus we have a two-fold mandate: lamentation and action. We must bring all of this to prayer for that is where we are held by the God who weeps with us. Prayer is the way we can come to some recognition and understanding of our complicity. It is the doorway to a transformed life.
As your bishops we join with Bishops United Against Gun Violence in designating Wednesday, March 14 as a Day of Lamentation for the lost and for the guilty, and to seek the transformation of our hearts. We ask you to gather in your congregations, or pause wherever you may be, at some time on that day, to weep, to mourn, to cry out to the God of justice.
We are grateful for and blessed by the initiative of young survivors of the recent Parkland, Florida, shooting who are leading the way in calling for the removal of weapons of war from our streets, and we thus encourage participation also in the March For Our Lives on Saturday, March 24. The mission statement on the event site reads as follows:
"March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to stop the epidemic of mass shootings that has become all too familiar. In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now."
On March 24, many will make the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. Many will travel to Boston. Still others will march in locally organized “sister” marches throughout our Commonwealth. It is our fervent prayer that these coordinated events will be effective in moving the leaders of our nation to enact common sense gun safety measures to proactively address the security of our schools and public places, including reinstatement of an assault weapons ban.
The Episcopal Church stands with the brokenhearted. Let us pray together on March 14. Let us stand up on March 24. Let us move from lamentation to action for the sake of our children, for the soul of our nation and for the love of Jesus Christ.
The Rt. Reverend Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop Diocesan of Western Massachusetts
The Rt. Reverend Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan of Massachusetts
The Rt. Reverend Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts
On Wednesday, March 14, we will join in the Day of Lamentation with prayer at our 9 a.m. Lenten Holy Eucharist. I invite you to join us in those prayers by worshiping with us in person, or we will post the prayers online so those working or without transportation can join us from afar as we lament the loss of our children lost to gun violence. And I encourage all that are able to join in the March 24 March for Our Lives. In addition to the one in Washington, D.C. there is a sister walk in Northampton.
Another way to act, is shareholder activism. If all of us who have stocks in our 401Ks or portfolios use our voice at the table to speak out, we can effect change. Three years ago Trinity Wall Street effected change at Walmart by using their shares to address their carrying assault weapons. More recently, the Episcopal Church’s Committee on Corporate and Social Responsibility, helped institute a similar change at Dick’s while working alongside other faith based groups. We do not have to sit idly by, we can take action that will make our children safer.
So as we head back into the world today, wonder, pray, with me and consider if we let zeal for God consume our hearts, how we might just have the energy and holy anger needed to transform the world. What part is God asking you to play? Amen.