What is Anger Good For, Anyway?

John 2:13-25

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

The movie “Inside Out” from Pixar tells the story of 11-year-old Riley as she and her family move across the country and Riley is faced with huge changes in friends and school and her life. But it’s not a story necessarily about those things. It’s about how she deals with those things on the inside. The movie is about her inner life and we meet those characters of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust as they navigate Riley’s new life and embark on the adventures that come with change and growing up.

Each emotion has a distinct personality and our journey through Riley’s experience with her emotions at the helm are guided mostly by Joy who is constantly putting the best spin on both memory and things happening in the present, hip-checking undesirable emotions out of the way. Anger is mostly comical, giving us time for laughter in this movie that has you considering deep things about your childhood and who you are.

We get that, don’t we? We want to feel good, put together, in control. We’d rather laugh at our anger or feel joy than sadness. Yet, you can’t have joy without sadness. You can’t live life without anger. Even your best life now has anger.

In today’s reading, we are plunged into a story where Jesus is angry. Now, let me be clear. We are not given stage direction or footnotes that tell us Jesus is angry, but I don’t think the soundtrack to Jesus’ actions and words are “Jesus, Tender, Meek and Mild” or “Just a Spoonful of Sugar.” And there is a great debate going on the Narrative Lectionary Facebook group I belong to about not wanting to frame Jesus as angry. Because that’s hard. But listen:

15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Doesn’t he just sound angry? Can we be okay with that? The Jesus we know in scripture is not driven by blind joy, in denial of the range of his full human emotion. I believe Jesus had a good sense of humor, but we’re never told in scripture that Jesus laughed. We’re told that he wept, that he was a man of constant sorrow, acquainted with grief. While we may love pictures depicting [*Laughing] Jesus smiling and laughing, all ancient icons and other depictions show a man with an expression of joy, but joy that reveals that suffering is what is found at the root of joy.

I woke up on Thursday, my sermon writing day, and read my morning devotion by Richard Rohr. In it he said this:

I am told that there are three kinds of cultures in the Western world today, each with its own “bottom line”: political cultures based on the manipulation of power, economic cultures based on the manipulation of money, and religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God. These three cultures are based on different forms of violence, although it is usually denied by most participants and hidden from the superficial observer. Evil gains its power from disguise. Jesus undid the mask of disguise and revealed that our true loyalty was seldom really to God, but to power, money, and group belonging. (In fact, religion is often the easiest place to hide from God.)…Challenging the status quo is unpopular. Jesus was killed for opposing the religious and political powers of his time.

Anger can be scary, can’t it? When it seemingly comes out of left field and spills over onto us? It is difficult to be in the path of anger. We avoid it, don’t we? We suppress it. We deny it. We’re told it’s not right to feel anger, and I think that finds traction because it doesn’t feel good to feel angry. Well, it feels good for about 5 minutes. It jostles everything around inside of us. It has the power to upset those around us. It can have a negative impact. It can cause violence.

What makes you angry? Are you still angry that your dad died too soon or that your marriage fell apart. Maybe you’re angry at God for your depression and anxiety. Your stupid cancer diagnosis. I get angry that the homeless and organizations and people who are there to help the homeless are being moved out for the Superbowl. I am angry that there are homeless people in our community. I am angry that President Trump disparaged Haiti and African countries. I am angry about the epic, biblical, downright Old Testament-sized exoduses that are happening around the world due to famine and violence. I am still angry about the debate about Hutchinson being a welcoming community and the openly racist defensiveness about “the other” moving here.

But let’s look closer at anger itself. Gregory Boyle is a Catholic priest who founded and works with Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles – the largest and only gang rehabilitation program in the world. From his latest book, “Barking to the Choir” he tells the story of Carlos who he has urged to enroll in anger management classes that Homeboy Industries offers. Carlos says, “I’ve taken anger management, like, ten times before and I still get mad.”  At HBI, we don’t teach homies not to be angry but how to be angry. To move forward, homies must make a choice to no longer be a victim of their own anger. They befriend their wound to keep them from despising their wounded-ness…Our brokenness is meant to be kept close.[1]

I believe Jesus was angry. I believe he was angry about the chasm being created by the temple system. By those who proposed to love God the most who seemed to be working hard to keep out those they deemed unworthy of that love. They were clinging to God with all of their rules.

Yet, I believe that anger is a gift from God. God gets angry when we hurt each other. God doesn’t show anger just to be angry. This wasn’t a show from Jesus. This was Jesus keeping his brokenness close. Really close.

And there’s the rub. Because underneath anger? Is unbearable pain. Disconnection. Deep, deep sadness. And when we face our anger, learn how to be angry, eventually we connect with what has torn us open at the core of our very being. When we befriend our wound we simply can’t and won’t mask it with anger. So instead of spinning in place, we are able to move and breathe and live. Free from our anger, but not in denial of anger.

Last week, Jesus used ordinary jars that held water that were used to exclude people to invite everyone in. This week, it’s like Jesus is flipping over the temple itself in order for people to be able to get to God. And then he drives everyone out! Out into the world God loves to turn over the tables of the things that need to be shaken and tipped over in our own lives.

Jesus knew he was the lamb of God. He knew he was the dove, the sacrifice, the temple. He knew his body, the very temple of God, would be beaten and destroyed and killed out of political and religious and economic power run amuck. He knew our deep, deep sadness, our unbearable pain would be bared by him. On the cross. He held his brokenness close.

Jesus, our wounded healer.

Isn’t this just the best news you’ve ever heard?!

Thanks be to God.

[1] Barking to the Choir pp.116-117