The point is the complexity of the stories. We can take them on the surface or dig deeply to explore what they have to offer. The key is how these stories help to make us more compassionate and kind people, more filled with grace…now.
Whenever there are “easy” answers, or obvious answers, we might be just sitting at the surface, where we have fit it nicely into a four walled box easily and comfortably. We stop where it aligns with what we already know, that place where we aren’t challenged. That place where we know we have it “right”. That’s a comfortable place. Often we throw out the rest, that which doesn’t fit what we know or want to know. We like things to be easy: it’s A or B. It’s yes or no. It’s right or wrong. But we know very well that life isn’t that simple.
We want it to be simple. By our very human nature we like things that fit into the box. We like the box. We like easy answers. There’s a reason why the quote: “the evil we know is better than what we don’t know” exists. It might not be good, but there’s safety in knowing what is and keeping things the same and familiar. Normal. We like normal.
But these next few weeks of Lent are where things start to break down and break open. We don’t do that in our comfort zones. We do that when we dig just a little bit deeper. When we challenge ourselves. When we let go, let fall away, let die, and allow for rebirth.
Nothing stays the same, which is what makes the word “normal” so interesting to hear when it’s tossed about. Nothing is actually “normal”. Ever. We change. What makes these scripture stories poignant is that they have stood the test of time. They grow with us as individuals and as people. Over our lifetime and over lifetimes. That’s what makes a sacred text…sacred.
I really liked this story of Jesus losing his temper. As one prone to tempers myself, it was comforting that even Jesus lost his temper. I wasn’t alone and it proved that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I mean, who hasn’t been there? Who hasn’t lost their temper or broken down in moment of anger and frustration? Who hasn’t at one time or another wanted to throw tables, throw money, yell at people, and set the cattle and sheep free?
We all have. We’re human. Even Jesus. We wrestle with emotions, especially the unruly ones.
I know I say this a lot, but it’s fear. Beneath every bit of anger and frustration is a fear that is being masked. We can find it in ourselves and we can find it in others, if we look. Dig deeper than the surface story to what’s beneath.
Jesus is angry. That’s one way of reading the story. Jesus sees what is happening and is so upset by it that he loses his temper.
There’s another way of looking at it. It’s possible that Jesus wasn’t surprised at all about what was happening in the temple. It’s likely he already knew exactly what was likely happening in the temple and was prepared for it. Perhaps he planned to draw attention to himself. It could have been a calculated move on the journey to the Cross. He might have needed to do something very loud and very public. A sort of civil disobedience to draw more attention. Perhaps, it was a bold, loud move because he knew there the road had to lead.
He loses his temper or he calculates a civil disobedient act. Maybe a little bit of both.
The interesting thing about these stories is that we are told what happened, but it’s not a novel. We don’t get the motives or “thinking bubbles”. It doesn’t say: Jesus saw the money changers and thought “how could they be doing this?” and then he got very angry and couldn’t control himself. We only see what he actually did and what he actually said aloud. We don’t get the feelings or thoughts that drove the action. We get to insert how we think Jesus felt, likely based on how we think we’d feel about it.
Anybody remember…the Wooden Spoon? Yes, I mean the Wooden Spoon that got whacked over your tush when you misbehaved?
I want to be clear, even thought I’m pretty sure it doesn’t need to be said, that I am not advocating corporal punishment. I just, for a moment, want to reference back to the days that many of us remember. Or if we’re the age beyond when that was okay, it’s not a bad thing to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that it was normal to hit our children. Normal. Funny word, normal is.
What was the difference between corporal punishment and a beating? Intention and…anger. Uncontrolled anger. Or power, but that’s another story. A wooden spoon used with intention and not out of anger was a punishment, not a beating. Uncontrolled anger was the difference between a punishment and a beating. There is a big different between a lesson and losing control. Wether corporal or not. We’ve all got experiences where no one laid a hand on us, but the outcome was still quite harmful. There’s a big difference between reacting with intention and reacting with fear and anger.
Fear always underlies anger. Sometimes the anger comes out over fear for our kids. For example, the kid that runs out into a busy street. The parent that’s so afraid for their kid’s safety that they lose their temper in punishing the child (whether corporal or other).
Recently, I was listening to a Mom story. Like most kids, this one was caught up in their own world and their devices and their needs and desires that they were no longer listening or paying attention to anything or anyone. They were wound up in me-mode. They weren’t remembering that Mom, and everyone else, is human too. That moms have feelings too. That dad have feelings too. That everyone has feelings. That the world doesn’t actually revolve around one person.
The Mom brought on the calculated anger, deliberately raising her voice and deliberately “losing her temper”, to remind her kid that other people have feelings too. Other people have needs too. Other people lose their tempers too. Even Mom. A mom who rarely loses her temper and does so with control teaches with the unexpected. The element of surprise to awaken one out of their thoughtlessness (as in not thinking). Sometimes, it’s necessary to be loud to be heard. This mom story got me thinking….
Maybe the money changers, the priests, the temple teachers weren’t listening. Maybe Jesus felt he had to be louder than they were to be heard. Maybe Jesus had to pull out his “mom voice”. Maybe it was a mom lesson to these “men of God” who had stopped listening to God.
We will never have certain answers. We have stories.
Jesus practiced daily prayer. Jesus sat with God and grace every single moment of is life. He studied God and himself and walked in the world as a teacher of God’s Way. He withdrew from the world to learn and practice until he was ready to teach and lead.
He wasn’t an angry man. He practiced love and compassion. He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t uncontrolled. He could resist temptations and haters with calm words and thoughtful actions. He could see the worst of people and situations and act rationally and thoughtfully. It is what we try to emulate. It’s what he teaches us. He was a teacher.
This time in the temple is the moment when things break down, or maybe they break open (but that’s for next week). It’s the unescapable Path. This is the moment when Jesus becomes the temple. The temple must come down for the temple to become something more than a mere place of transactions and commerce and theft. The temple becomes Jesus. Jesus becomes the temple. The temple becomes embodied and takes on new life. This is the harkening of transition and transformation.
So. Is this a human moment of losing control? Is it a calculated move on the path to the Cross? Or is this another teaching moment for those who are not listening? Or is it something else entirely?
It’s one of the beautiful things about the Bible. We’re given a gift to read and study. We aren’t given clear cut, obvious answers. We read, and then like Mary from the artwork a few weeks back, we create space to sit with and contemplate God’s words. We get to wonder what our part is in the story. We get to sit in the Mystery and let it seep into our lives and echo forth love and patience and Grace.