“Then [Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘it is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45-46)
I wouldn’t normally pick the story of Jesus overturning the money changing tables in the Temple for a devotional reflection. But I think it’s important to remember that Jesus had emotions just like the rest of us. And one of those emotions was anger.
When I was growing up, I didn’t learn how to process my anger very well. I was more often encouraged to be nice, to be sweet. So instead of expressing my anger I usually did everything I could to hide it. What I discovered, however, was that trying to suppress my anger only made it worse. It didn’t go away, it just erupted—sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. And when that happened it was scary. “Was that really me?!” I wondered when I heard harsh words come out of my mouth or when I did something totally out of character.
I now realize that anger is a feeling we all experience. And sometimes it has a very useful purpose. When Jesus overturned the money tables, he showed a holy anger directed at a system that robbed people out of their hard-earned money buying animals for religious sacrifices.
Last week we witnessed a holy anger in uprisings that began in Minneapolis and have now spread across the country following the murder of George Floyd. A swelling of righteous anger arose as that video was played and replayed on our screens. Another unarmed black person killed by a white police officer, this time as he gasped for air saying “I can’t breathe!”
The righteous anger we now see is not only because of an isolated incident, or the actions of just “one bad apple.” This is anger at the systemic racism within all the institutions of our society going back to the founding of our nation. And it is justified. As Barbara Holmes wrote in an article entitled Contemplating Anger, “….when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival. . . Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith.”
Of course, this anger comes out of something deeper. At its core is deep hurt for the pain that lies beneath. On Sunday evening, after a very long week of news, my own pain finally came to the surface with tears that flowed down my cheeks. I felt so much sadness for the litany of names that keeps getting longer—Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Jr., Trayvon Martin—and all the other unnamed people whose lives were robbed from them. And, I confess, my pain also included anger at myself. For my own silence as a white person of privilege. For not listening more to the experiences of others. For shying away from difficult conversations, sometimes within my own family. For not engaging enough in anti-racism education.
But again, holy anger has a purpose. It can be channeled into action. It can spur us to change. It can ground us again in the only thing that will bring us together—love. The hard work of love that Jesus showed us on the cross. Love is always the answer and therein our hope. In this season of Pentecost may we listen and be led by the Spirit of love.
Let us pray...
“God of passion, God unsleeping, stir in us love’s restlessness! Where the people cry in anguish, may we share your heart’s distress. Rouse us from content with evil; claim us for your kingdom’s work, claim us for your kingdom’s work!”