First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo

The Blessing of Anger -- John 2:13-22 (Third Sunday in Lent)

March 07, 2021 Rev. Scott Clark
First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo
The Blessing of Anger -- John 2:13-22 (Third Sunday in Lent)
Show Notes Transcript

In the blessing of anger, Jesus takes a stance against everything that does us harm, and invites us into Resurrection life.

This morning – as we hear this story of Jesus disrupting the dehumanizing systems that have grown up in the Temple – we are considering “The Blessing of Anger” from that Franciscan blessing–

May God bless us with anger at injustice, violence, 

and the exploitation of people, 

so that we might work for justice, freedom and peace.

 “The Blessing of Anger” – this is a hard one. Thinking of anger in any way shape or form as “blessing” may feel completely counter-intuitive.  To be sure, there are expressions of anger that have absolutely nothing to do with blessing or with “infusing the world with good,” and that have everything to do with harm. 

So there are some things we need to say at the outset.


There is a core understanding of anger as an emotion – potentially, a volatile emotion – it is a sense that wells up in us of opposition to something that we experience in the world.  Like other emotions, there are ways to express anger that can be healthy, and there are ways to express anger that are deeply harmful – and that can include violence.  And we know what that looks like – anger expressed as violence and harm –  in the threat of a bully, or within our closest relationships, or within systems of oppression that are designed to perpetuate our harm and the harm of others.


So let me say this: There is no “blessing” in anger that causes harm.  God never everdesires our harm. No, no, no. God, in Jesus Christ, stands against everything that does us harm – against violence, injustice, indignity, oppression.  And, God wills us always toward good – toward justice, toward freedom, toward peace – toward our good and the good of all people – toward the good of the world.


I hope in our life together we can and will talk about all the complexities of anger, but this morning, I want to invite us to consider this one vital aspect of anger.  I want to invite us to think of anger as a stance – as a sense that wells up in us, as a stance against those things in the world that cause harm – harm to the vulnerable, to the marginalized, to any creature, to the Earth – anger as a stance that wells up in us against harm, and that then says, “No.  Enough.”


In this morning’s Scripture, we see Jesus’ anger in the stance that he takes in the Temple.  Different from the other three gospels, the Gospel of John places this scene right at the start of Jesus’ ministry– it is a signifying event.  

Like so many others, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for Passover, and he heads to the Temple, the place where the people expect to meet God.  But what Jesus finds in the Temple is a transactional marketplace.  What he sees are merchants selling cows, and sheep, and doves for sacrifices, and moneychangers making money – it’s a bustling market. 

And, Jesus also sees their customers – the folks who are coming to worship, who are coming to encounter God. Now keep in mind, the way the economy worked, most people in Jesus’ day were living a bare subsistence living – every day with barely enough for the day.  So they come to the Temple with less than a little – and there are sellers of cattle, sheep, and doves – taking the little that they have.  And there are the moneychangers:  The people can’t use their Roman coins in the Temple – because those coins have an image of Caesar on them – so they have to pay the money-changers to change those Roman coins into Temple coins – into shekels.[1]

Now these activities wouldn’t necessarily have stood out as strange in Jesus’ day. The religious leaders sanction all this – maybe they make a little profit.  It’s part of the system – folks have gotten so used to it that it’s what they would have expected to see.[2]  But even so, as one scholar describes it, these are “all activities that extract life and livelihood from the people under this institutional system of indebtedness.”[3]  What Jesus finds when he comes to the Temple -- what he sees is the economic apparatus of the Temple making money off the poor.  


And Jesus says, No.  Enough. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” And he dismantles the system.  Jesus drives the cattle, and the sheep, and the doves, and their sellers out of the Temple.  Jesus empties out the moneychangers’ money buckets, and overturns their tables.  He overturns and drives out the economic apparatus of the Temple – the economic structures of the Temple that are exploiting and making money off the poor. We could say Jesus defunds the Temple.


But that’s not all.  There are two scenes in this story.   After Jesus dismantles the economic apparatus of the Temple, the religious leaders then ask him:  “What sign can you show us that gives you the authority to do this?”  And Jesus replies, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  They think he’s still talking about the building looming over them, but the narrator steps in and says: “But Jesus was talking about his body.”  

In the first scene, Jesus, in anger, takes a stance against the corruption of the place where people meet God, a stance, strong and clear, against the exploitation of people that happens there.  And in the second scene, Jesus says, “This temple – my body – you will tear down – but I will raise it up in three days.”  Jesus is talking about Resurrection – “This body, my body – in Resurrection” – Jesus says, “This body is where people will meet God now.”  This anger – this stance – points us toward Resurrection and toward life.  In the Gospel of John, and for us, this is a signifying event.


I have never been comfortable with anger.  For the first 40 or so years of my life, I would say I had little experience with anger – or maybe I just had a lot of experience repressing it.  

Which is why I was stunned by the fury that washed over me when Prop 8 was passed in California.  You may remember, back in May 2008, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that said that the right to marry was fundamental, and that it extended to same-gender couples as much as it did to mixed-gender couples  For those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community, a court had said – at long last – that we were fully human.  A court had affirmed our human dignity and our families.


And folks started getting married.  On the first day that the decision went into effect, I called up Janie Spahr – who had for so long gotten into “good trouble” for marrying same-gender couples – and our friend and co-conspirator Sara Taylor, and said, “Let’s play hookie, and go crash some weddings.”  So we hopped on the ferry, went down to San Francisco City Hall, and joined the celebration.  Imagine (if you’ve been there) – this grand civic atrium – with marble pillars and staircases – and folks getting married everywhere – in the alcoves, on balconies – folks who had been waiting 10, 20, 30, 40 years for this moment – for this freedom – families celebrating – and when a couple would walk out the door of city hall – a band and a drumline would start playing.  It was a grand day.


But there was a move afoot to shut it all down – called Proposition 8. Prop 8 proposed saying “No, those aren’t real marriages – no, you can’t do that – you don’t have that right.”  So the activist in me joined so many others, and we hit the phones and the streets – I’d do phone-banking in the city once a week– and I joined demonstrations at City Hall.  We would stand on the sidewalks around City Hall holding signs supporting marriage rights – as counter-protesters circled the block in cars – gleefully yelling the most vile things at us. 

But I knew.  I knew.  I had moved to California – and I knew the voters would do the right thing.


And here, in this community, Virginia and Anne got married, legally, celebrating their marriage again.  And in October, Jeff and I got married in our backyard.


And on November 8, Prop 8 passed.  The voters said no.  You can’t do that.  The voters said we were somehow less then – though we know that is not true.  I woke on that Wednesday morning to that news, and I didn’t know what was going on inside me – I was filled...  with rage.  In Alabama, we would say I was spittin’ mad.  I couldn’t speak to anyone but Jeff.  I had never experienced this before.  I was angry at Prop 8 passing.  And at California voters.


But here’s the thing.  I wasn’t angry at just that.  Because, with that news, and that gut punch, and that visceral anger, a sudden awareness swept over me.  This was the first moment in my life that I had ever really thought about or fully experienced what it is to have people vote on your life.  41 years – and I had never seen it, or thought much about it, or done anything about it. It became so clear to me – in the flash of a moment -- that Black folks knew – what it was like to have people vote on your lives and on your rights and on your family’s survival.  Migrating families living in this country without the required documentation – they knew.  Women knew. I might be gay – but I am also male, and very white.  And I’d never known – or been aware.  I had been so clueless – and part of so much harm.  And I was angry at that.


This anger called me to account.  It was a stance – not only against the harm I was experiencing in the moment – but against the harm that I was a part of inflicting on others.  And I didn’t know what to do with that anger.  So I slept on it.  And the next morning... it was still there.  And the next morning... still there. And the next.  And the next. And by January, though it was not flaming hot, it was still there.  This anger, this stance that kept calling me to account.


God never, ever desires our harm.  God, in Jesus Christ, stands against everything that does us harm – and against the harm we participate in – God stands against every kind of violence, injustice, and exploitation of people.  

The anger that we see in Jesus in this morning’s text – God’s stance against harm and for good – it saves us – it saves us from everything that does us harm, and it calls us to account, and it calls us toward life – toward the Resurrection life that we can experience even now in the life of Christ -- “the blessing of anger” – so that we might work for justice, freedom, and peace. For the world and for ourselves.


The poor need for everyone to have anger at the systems and structures that keep the poor poor.


Black Americans and People of Color – need everyone to have anger – at the systems of racism that have taken root in this country from the very beginning and that thrive into this day – they need everyone to be angry at injustice – and they need White people to call ourselves to account – so that we might see, and change, and dismantle the racist apparatus that drives this nation on the backs of the oppressed.

LGBTQIA+ people and our families – we need everyone to have anger –at policies and practices, of the government and of the church – that demean us and count us as less than fully human.

The Earth.  The Earth needs everyone to have anger – at the damage we have done – so that we will see and dismantle our destructive patterns of living – and try, as we teeter on the verge of climate collapse, to repair and to re-birth sustainable ways living. 

Biblical scholar Nyasha Junior reads this Scripture and asks us this question:  “What are the current conditions in our lives, and our congregations, and our community, and our nation that we should find unacceptable?”[4] – because they harm folks, and oppress folks, and exploit folks?  Where do we need to say “No. Enough”? And what then will we do?


The blessing of anger is specific – it is anger at injustice, and violence, and the exploitation of people.

And you may have noticed that each of these blessings comes with a “so that.” These blessings have a purpose – a specific way that God invites and empowers us to infuse the world with good.  May God bless us with anger so that we might live for justice, freedom, and peace.

We have to be blessed with anger at everything that does us and the world harm, so that we can clear our way to justice and love and life. This blessing and this Scripture, they are, ultimately, about Resurrection.  

As Jesus takes a stance in the Temple against its systems of exploitation, 

as he journeys toward the cross, 

as he takes us with him on into Resurrection, 

Jesus says, with his whole body, 

These systems – these powers that have harmed you and held you down 

and held you back – they no longer have power – 

these powers are dead. 

In the power of Resurrection, everything that lies before you is life.


May God bless us with discomfort,

         at easy answers half-truths and superficial relationships,

         so that we might live deeply and from the heart.

AND  May God bless us with anger, 

at injustice, violence, and the exploitation of people,

so that we might work for justice, freedom, and peace.

AND In blessing us with discomfort and anger,

  may God continue to bless the world with life.

© 2021 Scott Clark

[1] Herman Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (New York: T&T Clark Publishing, 2005), pp. 122-23.
[2] See Caroline Lewis, Commentary on Working Preacher, ; David Dark, Commentary in Connections, Year B, vol. 2,  (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020); see generally, Commentaries in Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 2 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).
[3] See Waetjen, pp. 122-23
[4] Nyasha Junior, Commentary in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, Year B (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p.150