Sunday, March 8, 2015

The muscular Jesus

Today's Gospel startles us.  When Jesus drove the money-changers from the temple, was this the same Jesus who forbid anger, insults, and contempt for others?  Is the Jesus who we see knocking over tables and driving out animals with a whip the same Jesus who said, "turn the other cheek" and "Love your enemies"?

Actually, what Jesus gives us here is an example of how to live out his teaching on anger.  Certainly, anger is a source of much evil.  But this means chronic anger which distorts our attitudes and infects our behavior.  This happens when we let our anger grow in us.  In itself, anger is just a natural reaction that is part of our human nature.  There is no fault at all in feeling angry, any more than in feeling hungry or cold or scared.  Like every emotion, anger can be put to good or bad use.   Today, Jesus shows us how to use anger as an expression of love.

Jesus' anger in the temple showed how much he cared about people, and it was directed to bringing about a change of heart.  Jesus didn't insult the merchants.  By quoting Scripture to them, he acknowledged their faith and the bond he had with them as fellow Jews.  By saying they had turned God's house into a den of thieves, he was not saying they were bad people, but reminding them that they were called to be good.  By expressing the anger he felt, Jesus was trying to show people that what they were doing was bad, so that they would change.

Jesus was not a man who stood meekly by and let evil go unchallenged.  He didn't use violence to overcome evil, but he did take forceful measures against it.  The gentleness and respectful love of enemies he teaches is not an excuse to stand by and do nothing about evil.  It is a call to risk speaking the truth and even to accept dying ourselves in an effort to bring people together in love and peace.

Jesus' angry actions might make some of us uncomfortable. We might describe the Jesus in today's Gospel as "the muscular Jesus." Sometimes the gentle images of Jesus make him seem too soft. But today's depiction shows us how Jesus could ruffle the Temple staff and cause the Romans to begin to wonder about him. The Jesus we heard about a few weeks ago who reached out and touched the leper, is the same one who wrestled with Satan in the desert and won. This is also the Jesus who will accept and bear his cross.

Which one are we most like, the meek and humble Jesus or the muscular Jesus?  I expect that most of us relate better to the meek and humble Jesus and that we wouldn't want to confront or argue with someone about issues of faith.  But, it has been said that all it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing.   

In the film, Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise says several times: "Show me the money."   If we follow the money, it will often lead us to evil.  If we follow the money in today's Gospel, we find God's house being turned into a noisy place of trade. 

Today, if we follow the money in the abortion industry, we find a big, profitable business which promotes barbaric procedures to dismember babies in the womb.  If we follow the money in child trafficking, we find children being used for forced labor, domestic and construction work, child soldiers, and sexual exploitation.  If we follow the money on the internet, we find that one of eight on-line searches is for pornography and that internet porn is estimated at 3 billion dollars.  If we follow the money in end of life care, we find lobbying for euthanasia or so-called right to die which is driven by a desire to avoid the expense of caring for a person at the end of his or her life. 

How would Jesus react to these money changers in today's marketplace?  I expect that he would be angry and would do everything in his power to throw them out.  He would not sit idly by and watch these evil practices.  He loves us too much for that. 

And what does Jesus expect us to do about these modern day money changers?  Certainly he wants us to pray for their conversion.  But, what else can we do?  Is it time for us to follow the money and put an end to these evils?  Is it time for us, like Jesus, to throw these merchants our of our communities, our homes and our hospitals?  Let us follow Jesus' example and show these money changers our righteous anger.