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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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 3rd Sunday in Lent

John 2:13-22

 What’s it going to take?

Not a Pretty Picture

The reaction of our Lord seems out of character to that kind, loving, person who strolls with us through the gardens of life while the dew is still on the roses. We are more familiar with the Jesus illustrated in the great paintings that adorn art galleries. Those portraits depict a man with a calm, serene almost aloof, face. His eyes have a dreamy stare. He is at peace even while chaos breaks around him. He stands with perfect posture or sits with prim straightness.

While we prefer to think of Jesus as the meekest, gentlest person who ever lived, he also had other very human character traits. C. S. Lewis illustrated the contrasting qualities of Jesus in his character of Aslan the Lion. In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, two children, Lucy and Edmund come to a grassy area. The field covers an area almost as far as the eye can see in greenery, except for one small white spot. The children cannot determine the nature of the white spot from a distance so they hike down to its location and discover that it is a lamb. The white wooly creature is not just any lamb but a lamb that can cook breakfast and have a conversation with them. The children want to know how to get to the land of Aslan. While the lamb is giving them directions a marvelous thing happens: “His snowy white wool flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself towering above them and scattering light from his mane.”[1]

Lewis graphically illustrates a great truth of our faith: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is also the Lion of Judah. In Christ, we find both the meekness of the lamb and the ferocity of the lion. Jesus could be both the man who welcomes children and the man who swung a very mean whip.

That day in the Temple was not the only time Jesus became angry with people. Standing before the religious leaders in Capernaum, he showed his indignation when they refused to offer their assistance to a man with a withered hand. He showed the same sharp edge when a leper evaded answering his question—do you want to be well? And his indignation was aroused when his disciples refused to let the children approach him.

Jesus displayed the whole span of human emotions from joy and laughter to sorrow, tears, and even anger. His heart wrenched for the sorrow and pain of his people But the question before us today is, what would produce his anger in today’s lesson? What would arouse his indignation into such a fury that would cause him to jeopardize the finances of certain merchants and threaten bodily harm?

The Passover Festival

Our search for answers to these questions takes us into the history of Israel and her religious festivals. The good Jew was required to come to Jerusalem at least three times a year and offer a sacrifice at Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. The first celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses in the desert and the third celebrated the gracious provisions, shelter and protection God provided while the people wandered in the desert. As you can see, each of these feasts were connected to the Exodus from Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land.

Distance could not be used as an excuse. The pious Jew was still obligated to make the long pilgrimage from whatever distant land he lived. To accommodate these displaced pilgrimages, the religious leaders would commission local merchants to sell sacrificial animals in the Temple courts. So, Jews from the entire Roman Empire would travel to Jerusalem carrying either their local currency or the currency of the empire. However, before they could purchase an animal or make a donation, the currency had to be exchanged for the Jewish coin. Only the coinage of the Jewish nation would be acceptable in the Temple collection box. And only the animals pre-approved for sale by the local priests could be offered for sacrifice.

Under such conditions, the law of supply and demand created grossly distorted exchange rates and inflated mark ups on the animals. A hefty profit margin was built into each exchange of money and every purchase. While the merchants were divided into rival groups, competition for market share did nothing to reduce prices but only succeeded in increasing tension and hostility.

This would not have been the first time Jesus enter the pandemonium of the Temple at Passover. It would not have been the first time that he heard the arguing between merchant and pilgrim. It would not have been the first time that he was overpowered by the stench from the concentration of barnyard animals and of burning flesh. It would not have been the first time that he had to work his way through the crowded Temple courts. But it would be the last time that he did nothing.

Angry at the merchants who used the religious festival for profiteering…

Angry at the pilgrims who were just walking through the motions…

Angry at the priests for turning the temple into a slaughterhouse…

Angry at the carnival atmosphere of the holy day…

Jesus overturned tables. He broke open cages and untied animals. He made a makeshift whip that held more symbolic power than real and he drove the people out of the house of God.

Let me ask you, what makes you angry?

Our anger is most often sparked by a threat to our own self-interests. We strike out in defense or retaliation with bitter hostility. We lose control of our capacity to think clearly and rationally and defend our misguided actions. This type of anger burns like fire destroying everything and everyone it encounters. That’s not the type of anger I am talking about. I am referring to an anger that swells within prompting you to make a thoughtful, disciplined response.

Someone suggested that the town needed a shelter for the homeless. Public meetings were held to debate the pros and cons. Some people would argue that the county already had enough shelters for people. It did not need one more. Another person expressed concern over the possibility of decreased property values. And someone else wondered if the school system could handle the extra students. One woman became angry of the self-pursuits. She sensed them twisting the circumstances to justify their own financial position and to ignore the human need. She was so upset that she built a place for the homeless by herself.[2]

Throughout his ministry, Jesus told parables that complimented people who showed prompt, decisive, intentional action. Jesus had little tolerance for procrastinators. The Kingdom of God was at hand. The time had come for each person to make a response. They could not wait any longer. They did not need to gather any more information or reevaluate the data. Now was the hour of decision. On the day he charged through the Temple, Jesus demonstrated to his disciples the decisive type of response he was expecting.

So I will ask you again, what will it take to get you angry?

A bishop in the United Methodist Church recently identified three distinct problems besetting the postmodern church. He believes that congregations that are willing to confront these issues will thrive. Those congregations that chose to ignore these problems will suffer from a diminished spiritual vitality

The Bishop believed that the first issue the church must address is a general state of Biblical illiteracy in the church. People just do not know the Biblical story. Secondly, he is concerned about the growing gulf between the "haves" and the "have- nots." The church cannot continue to cater to the “haves” but must develop ministries to supply the “have-nots” with the basic necessities. Programs like FISH and Hospitality House are wonderful first steps but we must become more creative and innovative in our approach to the social conditions that produce hunger and homelessness.

The final area is our society’s hostility to children. We live in a society that is addicted to youthfulness but does not do enough to protect and nurture its children. The postmodern church will grow only if it takes seriously its responsibility to its children, their spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.

Do you agree with the bishop? How angry does it make you when you hear stories about children who bully and intimidate other classmates? How angry does it make you when you hear about a child abduction? How angry does it make you when you hear about a child that suffers emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a raging parent? Angry enough to volunteer to help out with our WACKy Club next year? Angry enough to help prepare the Sunday school material so that we can teach our children the story of God’s love? Angry enough so that we can continue our ministry to our children and their friends?

When Jesus got angry he acted. He did not stand and complain about the injustice of the situation. He did not lament over God’s seemingly lack of interest or powerlessness. He picked up a set of cords, made a whip and created turmoil, chaos and confusion. He acted.

How long will you sit passively in your pews, bemoaning the plight of children in our country? How long will you wonder why so few people are willing to help? How long will you use the excuse that you have already served your time?

What is it going to take to get you angry enough to do something?



[1] C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader,

[2] G. Walter Hansen, “The Emotions of Jesus and why we need to experience them,” Christianity Today, February 3, 1997, Online: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/7t2/7t2042.html, March 21, 2003.

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