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Center for Action and Contemplation
When Anger Meets Love
When Anger Meets Love

Jesus’ Anger

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Reflecting on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in John’s Gospel (2:13–22), Father Richard explores the implications of Jesus’ anger and actions:

Jesus’ actions in the temple are what finally get him killed. After this, religious leaders are dead set against him. Whenever law and order are based on interpretations of divine proclamation, what invariably happens is that the church and state, or religion and government, start working together and operating as one. It’s still true in many countries to this day. Government leaders like to have religion on their side, so they can feel like everything they’re doing is blessed by God.

A few years ago, I was at a meeting in Washington, D.C. with nineteen representatives of various denominations. We wrote a statement that listed six different issues where we felt what Jesus teaches and what our government was doing are almost exact opposites. The issues revolved around racism, nationalism, classism that always favors the rich and the powerful, the terrible lack of truth in government, and our constant idealizing of money, war, and power. On every issue, the teaching of Jesus is in direct contradiction to the way our government has often operated.

Yet, if I’m honest, in many ways it’s always been that way; this is nothing new. It’s what’s playing out in this prophetic gospel reading (and in Matthew 21:12–17 also). The temple has become totally aligned with King Herod, with the collecting of taxes and money, and the selling of forgiveness.

Whenever religion gets into the business of the “buying and selling” of God, or of requiring sacrifices to earn God’s love, we have a problem. When Jesus said, “Get these birds out of here,” it’s a clue to the source of Jesus’ anger. The ordinary people had to sacrifice to be right with the priesthood and the temple. They sacrificed oxen and sheep, but the very poor were allowed to offer doves. Mary and Joseph had to give doves when they brought the infant Jesus to the temple (Luke 2:22–24). Jesus knows that his religion is not taking care of the poor; in fact, it’s stealing from the poor, and making them give even the little they have to feel they are right with God.

Jesus is angry about this, and many use this passage to justify violence because Jesus appears pretty violent here. But note that he’s violent toward things, not toward people. He’s liberating animals and trying to liberate the poor from their oppression. Of course, the religious leaders want to protect the building, the temple, but Jesus is redefining the temple. He identifies his body as the temple (John 2:21). The new temple is the human person; we are the body of Christ.

We see Jesus making this great revolution, transforming religion from a concern for sacrifice to earn God’s love to trust through which we know God’s love. And where does that trust happen? In the human heart.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Jesus’ Assault on the System,” homily, March 3, 2018. Available as MP3 audio download.

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

Anger is a spark that motivates us forward. Love is a pathway that funnels our motivation in an impactful direction.

Story from Our Community:  

I used to feel anger rising within me when others criticized the Church. I felt a deep need to defend the good that was done by Christians over the last few centuries. The teachings of the CAC have helped me to grow within myself in many ways. I can now engage with critics of the Church without animosity. I can acknowledge the pain and harm caused while still standing firm in the joy I get from being an active member of my Church community.
—Beth H.

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