This post was my contribution to the self-authored Progressive Asian American Christian Lenten Devotional – Our Daily Rice. It was originally published on February 19, 2018, Day 5 of the devotional.
Today’s reading: John 2:13-25
“Okay, deep breaths. Confession time. We’re still angry. Help us know what to do about it. Amen.”
Oh, Jesus. What just happened?
Today’s passage is John’s account of the day when Jesus got so pissed that he improvised a whip and ruined everyone’s Passover. But did he do it because anger got the best of him and he got a little carried away, or was this part of the plan? And what was he so upset about?
Since John intentionally places this story at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (unlike the other gospels that place it at the end) not only is it part of the plan — it is the plan.
So let’s first talk about Jesus getting angry because if we have the wrong ideas about anger, we will inevitably bring our biases into understanding what’s happening here. Also if we understand anger then we can know his motivations.
Anger is an emotion. Like all emotions, anger is purposeful and good, but it is one of those emotions that doesn’t feel good. The purpose of emotions that make us feel bad is to make us aware that we have an unmet need, and in our discomfort it provides us the acute awareness, the sense of urgency, and the immediate motivation to restore things towards healthiness.
Specifically when it comes to constructive anger, we’re triggered when we recognize that something is wrong in our world, but unlike guilt where we feel a private and personal responsibility to make things right, anger is a public and social emotion that compels us to compel others towards righteousness.
Constructive anger does not come from the most primitive and immature parts of our mind, but rather it is activated by our beliefs, oftentimes the most sophisticated and complex beliefs we have — our morality, our convictions of how things ought to be, our core values.
What core values of God incarnate were offended as he surveyed the temple courtyard?
As he saw the monopoly of money changers — was it that the powerful were taking advantage of people’s religious beliefs for their own personal gain?
When he saw that families were spending all their money only to be able to offer what was judged to be second-rate sacrifices — was it that the systematically disadvantaged were being disproportionately burdened, and still being criticized for doing the best that they could?
Was it that this marketplace had taken over the Court of the Gentiles, the part of the temple that was already an environmental microaggression that said that the religious “in crowd” deserved more access than the equally devout outsider who wasn’t born with the right identity? And now, even that limited opportunity to worship was literally being blocked by those born with privilege?
Was it that he saw thousands with earnest hearts investing so much into these rituals, and yet they were left to feel unsure that they had done enough to earn God’s approval?
Was it that he saw another large number going through the motions with minimal personal cost, and yet believing that they were inherently more entitled to God’s favor?
Can you also feel how Jesus would be angry? Not because he had a temper, but because he saw suffering and had compassion? This was because he saw systems of oppression reinforced by religiosity and prejudice. So he responded to his anger and started to make things right.
In order to do so, he had to first drive out all that was wrong. This is not unlike the process of deconstruction that many of us who have grown up in the church have been going through. And just like on that day in the temple, driving out wrong is chaotic, painful, scary, sad, and confusing. These are a lot of emotions that don’t feel good. But they are good because they give us insight, urgency, and motivation to move ourselves towards peace, healing, security, acceptance, and truth.
Once the courtyard is cleared, then and only then can we appreciate what remains. Jesus remains.
He reassures us that deconstruction is only the first step, because he plans on building it all back up, but differently (and much more quickly than you would expect).
He tells us that not only are we welcome in the Court of the Gentiles, but he leads us through the inner courts, where others had previously told us we don’t belong because of the way we were born.
He doesn’t stop there either. He brings us to the Holy of Holies, takes the veil and tosses it aside. Hand in hand we enter in.
“This is your home. You belong here. This is the way it ought to be.” – How does that feel?
Image by: Lexi Vega Koch
Lexi lives in LA with her husband and cat. She plays drums in an indie pop band called Nebulamigo and is currently taking classes in UX Design.
Calligraphy by: Ellie Yang Camp
Ellie is a professional calligrapher based in Mountain View, California whose first meal in heaven will be the perfect bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.
Invitation: The Facebook group where it all began: Progressive Asian American Christians.