John 2: 13-25 (NRSVCE)
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple is the most striking example we have in Scripture of Jesus getting angry. We often think of Christ as being gentle and non-violent in all things. It is, after all, Jesus himself who tells us to turn the other cheek when we are wronged. But here Jesus is whipping and chasing these people out of the temple. This isn’t a fit of uncontrolled rage either, as we see Jesus took the time to make a whip of cords (which takes some effort). Jesus is fully in control of His emotions and His actions here, and made a calculated decision to drive out the moneychangers and merchants. It is anger, but it’s not some kind of impulsive outburst of anger. The difference is very important.
There are many things which ought to make us angry. Blasphemy ought to make us angry. Heresy ought to make us angry. More broadly, sin ought to make us angry. Anger arises in us when we perceive an offense, usually against ourselves or someone we care about. If someone were to walk up and punch me in the face, I would be angry about that because I love myself and do not want to be harmed. If someone were to steal my sister’s car, I would be angry about that because I love my sister. Similarly, if someone blasphemes or knowingly spouts heresy, I ought to be angry about that because I love God. This is what we would call “righteous anger”, or anger which arises from a real injustice.
The disciples recall Psalm 69:9, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.” Jesus had such zeal for the Father, such strong love and devotion, that He could not bear to see such disrespect in His Father’s house. He is rightfully angry about what He sees happening there and takes corrective action. The question is, then, are you and I truly zealous in our faith? Is our love for God and for the truth so strong that we would fight for Him?
The answer should be “yes,” but in all honesty I think the answer for most of us is probably “no.” We live in a time where subjectivity is the only objective truth there is. You can have your truth and I can have mine, you can have your facts and I can have my “alternative facts.” It is almost taboo to point out when someone is wrong, or when they are committing wrong. This is even more the case when it comes to religious matters. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to discuss my faith with friends who come from other Christian denominations only to have them handwave things that I hold foundational to Christianity with “Well, you believe that, but I just love Jesus.” Things like “God is Trinity” and “Jesus is God” are, indeed, critical points of faith, without which Christianity is unrecognizable. When these truths are thrown out the window by people calling themselves Christians, that ought to make us angry.
Now, what I am NOT saying is that we should turn to violence. Yes, Jesus used a whip and overturned tables. But Jesus was dealing with a very particular situation in which causing a commotion was probably the most surefire way to correct the problem. What we ought to do is have enough zeal for God not only to care about what is true, casting off this veil of subjectivity that modernity has thrown over us, but also to defend the faith—to defend the truths which have been handed down to us in Scripture and through 2000 years of our Christian brothers and sisters walking with Christ. We ought to be that zealous. But more and more, it seems that we are not. More and more, it seems we are happy to allow the moneychangers to do what they will.