FEELING LENT…RAGE IN TEMPLE COURTYARD
March 8, 2020
Over these Sundays of Lent we are feeling Lent! We are exploring the waves of emotion that wash over Jesus during his final days in Jerusalem, while also encountering how these emotions speak to us in our journey as Christian folk.
13-14 When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength.
15-17 Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”
18-19 But the Jews were upset. They asked, “What credentials can you present to justify this?” Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together.”
20-22 They were indignant: “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?” But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. Later, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this. They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.
One of my favorite mindless movies all-time is the 1983 comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation, starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, John Candy, Imogene Coca, to name a few. It chronicles the zany, over-the-top exploits of Clark Griswold as he leads his family on a cross-country expedition from Chicago to that holy grail – California’s famed, fictitious theme park Walley World.
The most hilarious scene in the flick happens when Clark and family finally arrive at the amusement park after a most arduous journey. They leap out of the car and begin racing across the vast parking lot to the entrance while the theme to Chariots of Fire plays in their minds and hearts. They are totally oblivious to the parking lot being completely empty of cars.
When they arrive at the main entrance, they are greeted by a locked gate and Walley the talking, animatronic moose who informs them that the park is closed for 2 weeks for repairs.
Clark goes berserk. He punches the goofy moose in the nose, caving in its cheesy snout, and then proceeds to throw an absolute cussing hissy fit. This can’t be happening after all they have went through to get there! Can anyone relate?
Today we are at a holy and hallowed site—Herod’s Temple—in the heart of Jerusalem.
And we are going to explore this question: How do we ever know when confrontation is a Christian thing?
For you see, we often find ourselves…
FEELING RAGE FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS
Yes, our anger is often a symptom of our self-centered immaturity. From crayons to lanes on the interstate, we claim what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the noise. It sounded like our neighbor’s kid practicing the trumpet, but it was way louder and shriller and too early in the morning to be that.
Yes, while Valerie and I were on our morning walk along the rural route of Buttermilk Springs Road outside the metropolis of Mt. Sidney, we came across a donkey in the pasture of the Chittum’s horse farm, and he was in the process of braying and stomping and driving the horses away from the huge bale of hay.
And this happens most every morning at 5:30 am—this donkey pitches a fit until he has the entire bale of hay to himself! I guess that’s what he’s called a jackass!
A lot of our rage results from not getting our way. It’s pettiness. We feel slighted so we slap someone–verbally, perhaps physically. We go off on them. It’s a part of our culture.
Here’s something I found quite interesting—a counselor shared with me that anger is also a symptom of depression.
Depressed people are often mad people, channeling their despondency into a fury that lashes out at others. They are miserable, and they cannot tolerate people who aren’t.
Now, certainly depression has many root causes, ranging from external circumstances to chronic pain to deficiencies in neurological chemicals such as serotonin.
I know this firsthand. I’ve dealt with periods of depression in my life. And I’ve been an absolute bear to deal with, making life hell for my wife and family and others, flying off the handle, making them miserable because I was miserable. Thank God there is help for this!
And then, it is equally true that anger is a symptom of unresolved issues we have with God. We believe God caused certain bad things to happen to us in life….a job was lost, a marriage fell apart, a child died. And yet, because we cannot see God to punch him in the face, we do the next best thing—we make folks in the church lighting rods for our rage.
One of the interesting things I’ve discovered as a pastor in my three-plus decades of ministry is that very few people over the years have been mad at me over something I did or said.
However, I have encountered countless people who were mad at me ultimately because they were mad at God.
And because I was the preacher representing God they took it out on me. They had to blame somebody. And, at the end of the day, that’s okay.
But here’s the downside of all this rage for the wrong reasons: we expend anger at the expense of our health. We hurt others, yes…but we mostly hurt ourselves. Constant confrontation takes a toll on your mind, body and spirit. It wears you down as your blood pressure goes up.
Mad, manic mean people are sick people. Getting mad and getting even will eventually get you dead, prematurely.
I love the quote by Kathleen Parker that she once shared: “If I tussled with everybody who tossed a brick through my window, I’d never get the draperies hung!”
That’s a good way of approaching life. Learn to let it go.
We can, and need, to absolve our agitation. Just surrender it to God, and let it go. Remember, “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord. Life is too short to go through our days angry at everyone at everything. Don’t feel rage for all the wrong reasons!
And yet, having said that, Jesus shows us that is indeed proper to feel…
RAGE FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS
Well, Jesus has ridden the donkey down Mt. Olive Road and today he is outside the Temple in Jerusalem. Herod’s Temple, as the locals refer to it. It was originally constructed some 500 years ago by Zerubbabel when the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon. For some 46 years now King Herod has been giving this gleaming edifice an extreme makeover.
The temple’s imposing white block walls and magnificent gold cornice work is visible for miles at its location on the top of Mt. Moriah.
Thousands visit it each year on pilgrimages, especially during the Jewish Passover Festival.
The Passover Festival is THE major gathering of God’s people in this sacred city to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt and their birth as a nation.
It is a huge, noisy religious affair. Every adult male within a 15-mile radius of Jerusalem was required by Jewish law to attend the festival, and hundreds of thousands of Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire made this sacred pilgrimage at great personal cost.
Now, in the middle of this holy festival is a rigged business operation that is enmeshed in the whole ecclesiastical apparatus and controlled by the high priest. It’s a real-life DaVinci Code novel. Every Jew over 19 years old had to pay his yearly temple tax of ½ shekel, the equivalent of a day’s wages. The Gentile coins from Rome, Greece, Egypt and even locally were considered “unclean” for this “sacred” tax, so they had to be exchanged for the half shekel. And, like our modern-day Bank of America, there was a hefty fee charged by the moneychangers for this transaction.
The same is true for the sacrificial animals. Out-of-town travelers could not bring their own doves, sheep, cattle or other animals for ritual sacrifices…so there are sellers conveniently situated in the courtyard outside the Temple to provide such animals—at greatly exaggerated prices.
Now the Temple is organized into chambers—and the only chamber of prayer Gentiles are allowed to pray in is the outer chamber…right next to where all this irreverent, raucous buying and selling was taking place. No one could possibly pray when animals are milling about your feet!
Now I believe Jesus has stewed for quite a while about what is going on in Jerusalem. Jesus grew up in a working-class family. He is viewed with great contempt by the religious elite of his day as a Person of the Land. He has experienced discrimination and hatred first-hand by the Scribes and Pharisees.
But now Jesus is witnessing such oppression taking place on a massive scale to hundreds of innocent, poor people. And he is ticked. He refuses to stand on the sidelines and be a spectator to such exploitation of common folk.
But there is more to this than just the decadence of these greedy people. The entire religious institution has become corrupted to its core. The hope and love and presence of God has been layered over with hundreds upon hundreds of mindless rituals and laws, creating a towering, imposing fence around God, an impermeable barrier only the religious elite are permitted to peer behind.
As God’s Son, Jesus has come to make God’s heart visible to all humankind, not just a select few. He has come to tear down the fence the religious leaders have constructed. And it all begins right there in the Temple courtyard, as he fashions a whip and with swift fury proceeds to clean house. Jesus is always on the side of the disadvantaged and those being taken advantage of.
Jesus knows his words and actions will provoke the authorities. He knows a cross will not be not long coming. But some causes, and all people, the people whom God loves then and now, are worth dying for. With great courage, Jesus cleanses the unjust Temple in Jerusalem, a building made with human hands that will eventually be destroyed by the Roman army.
He sets in motion the foundation for a new Temple, the Temple of his redeeming love, to be built in all persons’ hearts.
Jesus’ body will indeed become the new Temple, the vehicle of atonement, through which we become at one with God
Jesus calls us to exhibit similar self-less courage today, courage that requires we…
Speak up! It’s easy today to hide behind emails, tweets and blogs. Rare is the individual who will stand up and call a spade a spade.
My daughter Allison’s good friend, Teddy, attends a staid, upstanding church in Lynchburg. That congregation rues the day they asked Teddy to serve on the Church Council. She’s a young woman who does not mind speaking her mind.
At a recent Church Council meeting, it was proposed that the church host a Stop Hunger Now campaign, which provides funds and manpower to package nutritious meals for starving persons in Third World nations. However, a prominent member’s granddaughter was going to get married in the church in two months, and this member thought the funds should be reserved for painting the sanctuary and getting new cushions for the pulpit chairs. And that was what the council approved.
Well, Teddy went ballistic! Next Sunday, during announcement time, she got up and informed the congregation of the vote…and challenged them to consider why they called themselves a church—which was more important—spending money to paint a sanctuary or to help a starving child live.
The church did the Stop Hunger Now campaign!
Act up! “All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
I carry certain regrets with me, but perhaps none is greater than the shameful regret I have over something that happened way back in my high school years.
Hogan was the name of the fellow. He was in the same grade as me. He did not have a friend in the world. He was simply different…not an obnoxious kid, but an odd kid. Didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Sat alone by himself at lunch. Never was invited to join in with any particular groups at school. Our lockers were nearby. He’d occasionally speak to me between classes, and I’d mumble something back. But I never said much to him. I was a jock. And I was much too cool to be seen associating with someone like him.
Hogan often reeked of urine. That’s because he was afraid to go to the bathroom. Someone was always picking on him there. I saw it happen a couple of times…redneck thugs threatening to flush his face in the toilet…extorting lunch money from him.
One afternoon it really went over the top. As I walked into the bathroom I saw 4-5 guys ripping Hogan’s shirt off of him—they proceeded to give him a pink belly—beating, slapping him on his stomach and threatening to do other types of bodily harm to him. He was terrified. He was crying.
“Help me, Burch! Please help me!” I heard him holler before they stuffed a sock in his mouth. I paused for a moment. I could have easily stopped it—they were just some pimply-faced punk sophomores. I turned and walked out of the boy’s bathroom, as the bullying continued behind me. I didn’t want to get involved. I was afraid the word might get out that I had stood up for Hogan.
Two years later my sister Sandra, who still lived in my hometown, called me to inform me the police had found Hogan dead that afternoon. He had committed suicide. And to this day I know that at least one strand of twine in the rope that was found draped around his neck belonged to me and my cowardice. It is to my shame that I did not stand up for a helpless, defenseless individual. And I will have to answer to God for that one day.
Yes, it’s easy to feel rage for all the wrong reasons. It’s hard to find the courage to rage for the right reasons, the matters Jesus feels we ought to get riled up about. Jesus calls us to stop being spectators to exploitation, to defend the disadvantaged and those being taken advantage of. To drive out the perpetrators. To speak up and to act up on behalf of all God’s children.
And that’s what transpires in the courtyard of Herod’s Temple on that Passover afternoon during our Lord’s final week in Jerusalem.