When I was a teenager, and well into my current daily life, I have been a fan of Rage Against the Machine. Yes, they use expletives. So does nearly every book I read/write. Yes, they are politically liberal and, at times, unfair in their critique. But man, that yelly/crunchy guitar combo is just lovely.
When I was a teenager, though, I loved RATM for a reason other than their musical chops: I was ragey. As so many many many teens are, I felt like the whole world was against me, and I it. Why? Because of limits, boundaries, and rules. I couldn’t get credit because I wasn’t old enough. I couldn’t get a house because they didn’t trust me to sign the mortgage. Things go on and on and there are good reasons for those things but my 17 year old mind just could not grok it.
This morning I was contemplating some scripture and, because anger and dealing with it have been a recent theme, I felt like maybe I ought to write about it.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (ESV)
I have heard this scripture quoted as a justification for gun ownership. (True story, more than once.) I have also heard it used as a justification for nearly anything, ever, that makes us angry. “Well, Jesus made a whip and beat people, so I have every right to yell at the Starbucks clerk who screwed up my order!” (Almost a true story.)
Being on any kind of social media, I see people misuse scripture on nearly a daily, maybe even hourly basis. It’s easy enough. They’re just words on paper and you can ascribe whatever meaning you want to them. This is what evangelicalism taught the world to do, remember. So I see people take a scripture out of context, or just flat out change it’s meaning, more commonly than anyone ever taking the time to read and study be subject to the intended meaning that’s already there.
So this morning, something struck me about peaceful, meek, humble Jesus making a whip and flipping tables: what the hell were His disciples doing? Literally, they watched the guy they knew as, probably, the best and nicest man they had ever met fly into a rage over something that they had witnesses and seen all their lives. But it does not say that they cheered him on or joined in. And if you’re thinking, “Well, Jesus sort of lost it this once, it was just a bad day,” I need to point something out to you.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (ESV)
Okay, for today’s parlance, let’s imagine this scene as such:
Jesus was traveling through an area, had some friends go ahead of him to book a hotel and maybe get some dinner plans in place, but wherever they went, the hotels wouldn’t book them and people were just rude. So the disciples decided that because Jesus has the power to detonate an atomic bomb, the rude hotel owners ought to be incinerated. Jesus tells them no and corrects them.
So in one instance, Jesus is on the very verge of apocalypse bringing and in the other, the disciples were. So what was different?
I asked myself, “What would make Jesus angry and what would make the disciples angry? And why is it different?”
The money changers in the temple figured out a way to make money off of people and God. They provided a service where you could come in and buy your sacrifice. You know the sacrifice that you brought to God to pay for your sin? That one? The very thing you were trusting in to ensure God’s wrath against your sin was satisfied? That sacrifice. This was the equivalent of saying, “God can be bought.”
Jesus knew His very life was the only thing worth anything to God.
Do you see that? And these hucksters were saying, “No, God is just an accountant and we’re here cutting Him the right checks.” His anger was righteous. It was justified.
Now switch over to the disciples. They were, at best, inconvenienced. The people would not receive Jesus. In LITERALLY the same chapter, just fifty verses prior, Jesus tells His disciples how to respond to people who don’t receive them.
And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” (ESV)
I will grant you, if you know the meaning of that text, it’s a little harsh. Shaking that dust off meant declaring someone to be unrepentant, unclean, and swearing you would have nothing to do with them. It’s harsh, but it makes sense, at least. Fire isn’t mentioned at all. Not in one single place. No hints, no allusions to Elijah, no mention of seraphim, nada. Just, “Hey, if they tell you they don’t want Me, just move on knowing that they have made their choice.”
But these disciples, these men who have watched what makes Jesus happy, what makes Him sad, what does all of these things, go to the nuclear option the moment they don’t get what they want.
And there’s the rub. There’s the lynchpin. Jesus flips a table because people were mocking God, mocking His goodness and His mercy, and mocking His very death. And the worst He does is drags that sin into the light of day. That’s how Jesus responded. But when the disciples don’t get what they want, life might as well be hell on earth. I mean, these people ought to literally die in a fire.
How many times have I gotten angry because God didn’t give me the tiny little convenience I wanted? So angry that I would commit murder? I would rather not admit that number publicly, but I assure you, it’s probably a weekly occurrence if I’m being super generous towards myself.
And then, how many times have I gotten angry about the things that genuinely make Him angry? Not my pet thoughts. Not the ones that just align with my own preferences. How often do I get angry when I see the world buying “forgiveness”? How often does zeal for Him consume me?