Years ago Paul Harvey told a story about an attempted robbery in Oceanside, California. The robber was wearing a motorcycle helmet and carrying a gun when he strode into the bank. He selected a teller who appeared a bit older, soft, kindly, an easy mark. He handed her a note demanding money or her life. The woman reached for the cash drawer. Then she looked at the note again and her eyes flashed, her lips clenched. She pulled the entire cash drawer out, but instead of giving him money, she clobbered the robber over the head with the drawer. And she did it again and again. She was scolding him. Money was flying everywhere while she was beating him and shouting “Shame on you, shame on you” bouncing blows off his helmet until the young man turned and ran. Police caught him in nearby shrubbery. Afterwards they asked the woman teller how come she was about to give him money at gunpoint and then, suddenly, instead, became enraged? She said rather primly, “In his note there was a very naughty word.”
Different things upset different people. But there are times when all of us get angry. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once said, “Anyone can become angry that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way this is difficult.” It is true. It is easy to get angry and most of us do but to be angry with the right person, about the right issues and in the right way is in fact quite difficult.
People in the United States typically don’t get angry or even excited about their religion too much but in other parts of the world people do get very worked up about their faith. We see in Egypt the Muslims still attack the Coptic churches in order to destroy them and hurt the believers there, why? It is because they are Christian and not Muslim. In Ethiopia the Yibir are not allowed to own or even rent property to make a living, why? It is because they are Jewish and live among the Muslims and they refuse to convert. In Iraq and Syria Isis has had a policy of no toleration for anybody else who may vary from their beliefs, Kurds, Christians or even other Muslims. And those who refuse to convert captured have been killed, sold in slavery or have their homes and possessions confiscated.
But being upset or excited about our religion is not common here. And in the gospel accounts we don’t see Jesus get angry or upset very often. Yet last week we saw him raise his voice at Peter and called him Satan and at another point in time we see him call the chief priests and Pharisees white washed tomb stones, clearly if not angry at least irritated. But today’s gospel we see Jesus get angry. “And making a rope of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” I think we can safely say that Jesus, meek and mild, was upset. Perhaps we can even say he was angry. But why, why is Jesus angry?
Was he angry with the money-changers? In biblical times, the money-changer was a familiar sight. He would sit at a table in a conspicuous place to change the people’s money from one kind to another. Interest, which was often excessive and unfair, was charged for this transaction. Even today we have people who exchange the currency of one country for that of another and charge a fee.
In Jerusalem, people could not use the common, every day Roman coins to buy sacrificial birds and animals. The reason they couldn’t use Roman coin was because the Roman coins held a picture of Caesar, which to the Jew, was a graven image. Therefore the Jew had to exchange the Roman coins for Temple shekels. And apparently to expedite this process the money-changers had moved into the temple courtyards. During the Passover time, which this was, the population of Jerusalem would swell from around 200,000 to over a million. The crowd of pilgrims was enormous and all these pilgrims needed to buy the sacrificial animals and in order to do that they needed to exchange their money for temple shekels. The money these guys were making was prodigious. So certainly Jesus was angry at the injustice of the overcharging of the pilgrims. But not only was it against the excessive charge for the service, it was that all this exchanging of money and buying of sacrificial animals was taking place in the temple courtyards. And this did not in the courtyard where the Jewish men worshiped, nor in the courtyard where the Jewish women worshiped but all this exchanging of money and selling of the birds, sheep, and oxen took place in the courtyard of the Gentiles.
In our gospel lesson he tells the people to not make his father’s house a house of trade, a storefront. In other gospel accounts, we also hear Jesus say “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations but you have made it into a den of robbers.” So why was Jesus angry? Was he upset that there were money-changers or sellers of the sacrificial animals? I am sure the price gauging irritated him, but I don’t think that was the only issue. The primary issue was where all this was taking place. He was upset that instead of the temple being a place where people could come to pray, it was now like a market place. It was noisy, smelly, and full of commotion. And Jesus said that this is not the way it is supposed to be. People are supposed to be able to come here to meet God, to feel his presence, to be able to confess their sins and then to find forgiveness for their sins. And yet now instead of that it had become a place for people to make money.
As Aristotle said it is easy to get angry. But to get angry for the right reasons is not as easy. You and I tend to get angry when our rights are infringed upon, when we feel slighted. Jesus got angry for entirely different reasons. Jesus got angry because people were unable to approach God in his house.
In the U.S. we get worked up about sports and politics and while sports may be fun and politics certainly affects our society and is important, the importance of knowing God is far more significant, because knowing God or not knowing God affects one’s eternal life. And eternity is more important than sports or politics. It is way more important. With that in mind we need to consider if we care about what God cares about. Do we care whether people can hear God? Do we care about the message of Jesus getting out and being understood? Are we concerned about people in our community who need to hear the Gospel? Are we concerned that people are able to worship and hear God without distractions? It comes down to what is really important to us? What really matters? We see today how angry it made our Lord when people corrupted the place of worship and prayer because he understood how important it is for all people to come to God. He understood how much people need God. They need to feel his presence, they need to be able to confess their sins and find forgiveness. All of us need this! Are our hearts concerned about whether others know God?
It is the third week of Lent. Do we care about the same things Jesus cared about? Do we get excited or upset or angry about the things that Jesus did? Let us ask God to help to us to realign our hearts with his heart so that what is important to God is also important to us.