(spring AD 30, Monday of Passion Week)
Compare these two verses:
“When King Herod heard [about ‘the king of the Jews’ having just been born] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3, emphasis mine)
“When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’” (v.10).
A striking similarity in how people responded to Jesus arrival, 33 years apart.
A couple of US cable news hosts recently agreed on air that Jesus was “admittedly not perfect” – a statement designed to show their belief in his existence but disbelief in his deity. Or perhaps, head-spinningly, that he was God AND sinful. It was also a ‘come on folks, nobody’s PERFECT’ moment. I don’t know what evidence they would use, but the incident in today’s reading is the one people most often cite when they say that Jesus maybe sinned a little bit.
It shows vengefulness, they say, and a loss of temper.
However, when Jesus trashed the stalls of the traders in the temple, there is zero evidence that he lost his temper. Anger is not sin, but sinning in anger is so common and natural that God said, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).
As for vengeance, it’s an central part of justice, involving “punishment inflicted or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong” (Oxford English Dictionary). But vengeance is the prerogative of God: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35) and the authorities on earth he has instituted, such as governments. It’s not for you and I to take such things into our own hands.
And Jesus was and is God, so his vengeance was righteous and his anger was holy.
Knowing that Jesus did these things in the temple courts without losing any control over himself is more frightening to me than if he’d had a sinful hissy fit. This was not petulance, it was a holy and righteous anger at the actions of those who placed profit over worship.
The problem was not that they were trading – the money changing and dove-selling was all specifically aimed at people going to the temple. The problem was that they were being racist – occupying the only part of the temple complex open to Gentiles who wanted to come and worship God, and thus preventing them from doing so.
Jesus’ anger at these people was consistent with the anger he had been expressing to the religious leaders for three years, from places like Matthew 5:20 when he told the people that the Pharisees were going to hell, to a climactic speech in two chapters time where he eviscerates them repeatedly as “hypocrites”.
The miraculous healings that followed did, as usual, nothing to wake them up, and their response to the healings and the praises to God ringing out from the children was to be “indignant” (v.15). Of course they were – never mind the proof of who Jesus was, right in front of their eyes, they had long ago decided that he was an existential threat to their world order and they wanted rid of him.
The same question that was asked at Jesus’ birth is being asked here: are you ‘stirred’ or ‘disturbed’ by Jesus?
Does he make you “indignant” because he threatens to turn your life upside down?
Does he cause you – as he caused the children – to worship him as Lord and sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”?