It’s Time to Overturn the Tables
Third Sunday Reflection
In a Sunday school class I was in years ago we were asked, “Is anger a sin?” The incident described in John 2:13-22, in which Jesus turns over the tables of the moneychangers and those selling goods in the temple, is one of the most often cited examples of Jesus displaying anger. After a lively discussion, my Sunday school class concluded that anger by itself is not a sin. Rather, it’s what you are angry about and how you direct your anger that matter.
Here, Jesus is angry because the Jews have turned the temple, meant to be a house of prayer, into a marketplace. Jesus provides a model or example of how we are to live in the world. As he shouts at the Jews for defiling his father’s house and thus dismissing the very first commandment to honor God above all things, he shows us that anger is sometimes the right response. It’s true that the word anger has negative connotations in our culture. Righteous indignation is another way to describe how Jesus must have felt when he saw money changing hands for personal gain in a place designated for worshipping the one true God.
As we reflect on Christ’s life and our own Christian journeys during this season of Lent, an essential question for us is: What are we angry about? The phrase “It’s all good” is used often in our culture. But the truth is, it’s not all good. We live in a broken world where injustice and oppression are common, where millions go hungry and lack the resources to meet their basic needs. As Christian people we are called to participate in overturning the systems and structures that perpetuate such suffering. We are called to be angry and filled with passion for change when we recognize places in our world where God’s laws and the ideals of God’s kin-dom are disregarded or dismissed.
As a deaconess of The United Methodist Church, this is comfortable territory for me. I do get fired up when I see families caught in the cycle of poverty or men and women living with HIV/AIDS who don’t have access to life-saving medications. In fact, I get fired up about many things and filled with passion for change easily. While Jesus provides a model for us in this situation to respond with anger, the verses also set Jesus’ actions in the context of his identity and authority.
When the Jews asked Jesus by what authority he was doing these things, he offered his very identity and his ability to rise from the dead as justification, tying his anger and passion to his divine identity as the son of God. We must turn to God for confirmation when we feel anger or righteous indignation welling up in us. I know that it is necessary for me to seek guidance from God, through prayer and meditation, to discern whether my anger in a particular situation is indeed a response to an assault on God’s plan and purpose for the world or whether it reflects just my own opinions and perspectives.
Lent is a time for self-examination and spiritual renewal based on inward reflection. Let us also look outward and seek to discern where God might be calling us to turn over the tables and boldly challenge the world’s practices.
Gracious God, please give us the courage to challenge the world when we see situations where injustice reigns. Use us for your purpose, to transform the world into a place where your will is done and your kingdom reigns forever. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Laura Kirby is a deaconess serving in the Western North Carolina Conference. She currently works as development director at the Western North Carolina AIDS Project and co-chairs the Board of the Haywood Street Congregation, a United Methodist mission congregation and homeless services provider in Asheville, N.C.