In John 2 Jesus walked into the temple and found things far from what they should’ve been. People were selling sheep and cattle and exchanging money. People were turning profit in God’s house. This was supposed to be a place of reverence not a place to grow individual worldly provision and wealth. It was a temple not a mall. The holy had become marketable. And Jesus didn’t like it. The merchants sat behind the tables they carefully arranged earlier that morning just as they had many mornings before that. To them the table was their means of living, so you can imagine their feelings when Jesus made a whip and in a craze he cleared the temple scattering coins, turning tables, and running the people and animals out. He yelled at them about the perversion of their livelihoods and ruined a day of earnings. And he didn’t apologize afterwards.
While most of us only hear about the Jesus who is a domesticated nice man, the Bible tells us of a zealous man, a man who cried in sorrow, loved in compassion, and raged in anger.
Jesus isn’t calling us to a life of anger and fighting just to get our own way. But Jesus does call us to righteous anger at the right times. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin.” In other words, there is a way to be angry and not sin. There is way to turn over tables and remain holy. Righteous anger is anger birthed out of wrong doing, yet leads to God-honoring actions and justice for people. Righteous anger sees
A few years ago I was talking to a 17-year-old boy named Carl. Carl was like me, tall and skinny and somewhat funny, from a broken home. He was a good kid, a student who sincerely walked with God, but he was always hesitant, as if something was holding him back from transitioning into the confident man God wanted him to be. Carl’s past was a mix of good and bad, hatched out of an imperfect family with hurtful memories.
One evening Carl told me a story from years ago. He was a little boy standing at the bottom of the stairs and his father stood looming at the top. As all kids do, Carl had done something to upset his father; I don’t even remember what it was, something minuscule. In a booming voice Carl’s father looked down at him and forcefully said, “Carl, you’ll never become anything.
A decade later, those four words were still carved into Carl’s heart. He still heard them daily. Anger filled me when Carl repeated those words. I looked the hurting boy in the eyes I spoke with compassion and firmness, and for right or wrong I said what I thought he needed to her, “Carl, that’s bullsh#t.”
A few months ago I was alone in my office reading an email from a friend of mine who lives in Scotland. The email was about injustices in the world—poverty, people dying, children starving. There was an image of a baby girl so undernourished that her spine was breaking out of her skin. Another image was of a little boy who should’ve been playing with a toy tractor but was eating scraps in a filthy street gutter. I was reminded of the summer after my sophomore year in college when I took a trip to Africa. I walked the streets of such places and saw these things in person, where children’s bellies are bloated from hunger and disease creeps uninterrupted. So, there I was alone sitting in my nice office in my nice leather chair with a vending machine down the hall and a cabinet full of medicine in the break room. And in a rare moment of Jesus-likeness I cried for these children. Tears of anger for things in this world aren’t as they should be. They haven’t been since the Garden.
Righteous anger should lead to strong feelings. But most of all, righteous anger should lead us away from hostility and hate, and into action. Jesus didn’t just get angry, he turned tables. He acted for the honor of God and the benefit of the people. All too often my righteous anger becomes stuck in awareness, knowing about needs but doing little to be a part of a solution. I wrongly think my little role of giving monthly or speaking of someone’s needs won’t matter, yet the truth is my little role may be enough for one need, for one child in need. I guess that wouldn’t be a little role.
The Lord is softening my heart and slowly, at times embarrassingly slow. I’m getting over my greed and materialism and selfishness. He’s helping me see that righteous anger should be followed by the turning of some tables.
Russ Masterson is a husband, father, child, friend, and pastor. He also teaches, through talking and typing. Visit his blog at www.liesioverheardinchurch.com.