“Hurry up Ben!” Eli shouted over his shoulder as he ducked into the crowd already gathered before dawn in the outer courts of the temple. Benjamin ignored a sharp pain in his bad leg as he hurried to catch up. He was a little afraid he would not be able to find Elijah’s pen among the hundreds crowded into the area around the sheep gate. And he had to be on the lookout for temple guards. Ordinarily they wouldn’t have let him get this far into the holy place. But this was Passover week. And the guards were too busy managing the crowds coming from all over Judea, Galilee, and across the world, to bother with the lame and the blind. In fact, they were more concerned about lame sheep than they were street urchins.
“Where are you, Eli?” He called as he dodged two girls carrying a cage over filled with doves.
“What are you doing here, you little cripple?” An older boy dressed as rough as Benjamin kicked at him. He managed to leap out of the way of the boy’s foot only to fall in the middle of 3 or 4 sheep being herded toward an already crowded pen. The squealing animals darted in every direction. The boys herding them didn’t have time to curse Benjamin as they ran after the sheep.
Benjamin scooted to a pillar moving quickly to the far side. He pulled himself up onto the base, and sat there a moment trying to catch his breath. He wiped wet sheep dung off the front of his tunic and scowled at his nasty hand before wiping it on the sharp marble edge. His woven tunic was already dirty. He tried to wash it occasionally, but he slept in a barn and worked with sheep. He was always dirty. The smell didn’t matter anyway. Most of the temple grounds smelled like sheep dung. Later in the week this area would reek of flowing blood.
He heard His uncle growling at someone or something. He couldn’t make out the words. The old man raised his staff and shook it. The crowd surged out of his way. In that instant Ben saw Eli’s striped cloak. Slipping down off the pillar Benjamin lurched through the crowd in the direction of his cousin.
“It’s about time you got here. Where have you been?” Not waiting for an answer Eli looked back at the sheep. “Go see if you can calm that young ram down. He’s been butting the other sheep around him.” Benjamin waded out among the sheep and put his hands on the recently sheared ram. He was relieved to feel the sheep relax at his touch.
“Bring that one here,” Elijah shouted over the din. A finely dressed man had been bargaining with him for a lamb. Benjamin hefted the sheep and carried him over to Elijah and set him down.
Elijah ignored the boy, “I know you want a younger one, but this is the only one that is not already spoken for.” That was almost true. At least he knew he could sell all he had brought to the temple at three times the regular price.
“Well can you at least come down to ten deneri.” The man spoke Hebrew with a Syrian accent. Elijah simply turned away from him as if he were looking for another buyer. Reaching out the man grabbed his arm and turned him back.
“I can give you 9. 10 is all I have with me and I have to feed my family until we sacrifice the animal.” Elijah shrugged giving no hint of his pleasure over the outrageous price. If the man had been a local he couldn’t have asked more than 5 or 6 denari. And that would almost be robbery. It was difficult for Ben to feel sorry for the rich foreigner. He was foreign even if he was obviously Jewish.
The real price gouging was done by the money changers. The priests had insured a market by insisting that only local coinage could be used on the temple grounds and as much as possible in the entire city at Passover. Even after the temple’s cut, the money changers were getting rich. And of course, the priests were getting fat on the proceeds of the Holy Days.
Suddenly there was a shout from the inner court. A man with a woven leather whip was turning over the money changers tables.
“This is a house of prayer!” he shouted. Coins were rolling everywhere across the marble floors. But none of the bankers were trying to gather any of it up as they fled from the fire in the man’s eyes. There was a cumulative effect from the rush to get out of his way. Overturned cages broke open releasing hundreds of doves filling the temple with the thunder of their wings. The temporary stock pens became irrelevant as baaing sheep stampeded with the buyers and sellers fleeing from the prophet’s rage. In hardly a moment all who were left in the temple building, including priests in their rich garments were huddled against the walls.
The man looked around at all who were still in the building. He shook his fist still holding the leather quirt. “It is written!” He paused for effect still turning to sear listeners with with his fiery gaze. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations! But you, you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
No one dared look him in the eye. People shuddered at the authority and obvious truth of his words. People continued to slip with bowed heads out of the temple complex. The priests who had been trying unsuccessfully to maintain their dignity were now whispering to one another.
Benjamin had pressed himself against a wall knowing he was not able to run with the escaping crowd. Without the livestock and selling and buying, a great silence had fallen over the building. And he looked again at the man. He had heard of him before. This was Jesus, the prophet from Galilee. His eyes still looked angry, but something in them drew Benjamin. There was no more crowd to hinder his progress. And he limped forward. By the time he reached the man, more lame and crippled people were gathering around him. He had just prayed for a blind man who began to shout that he could now see. As many as came to him were falling at his feet trying to embrace his ankles. And one by one he healed them. Benjamin had been slow to reach him, but he felt a firm hand reaching out to grip his leg. The familiar pain increased, but he had no desire to move away. He heard the man speak his name.
“Benjamin, I am forgiving your sins. My Father has always loved you.” Then as the pain eased Benjamin put his full weight on his foot. And he realized he was weeping. Although he had not known it, tears had begun to wet his face while the prophet was still pouring his wrath out on the desecration of the Holy Place. He continued weep as he realized he had been completely healed.
How do we justify anger with agape? There are few things that can be so easily and violently perverted by the absence of agape as anger. But in fact righteous anger can flow from agape. Jesus loved His Father. And He loved the temple and its prayerful purpose. So He was naturally angered by its disgusting perversion.
The hair stands up on the back of my neck as I read Matthew 21:14. Immediately after Jesus cleared the temple in His wrath the Bible says.
“The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple complex, and He healed them.”
Somehow, the outcasts of society knew He loved them even in the fire of His anger. Jesus’ was angry from agape. And His anger at injustice reached out to the oppressed. Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple because He loved the people, especially foreigners, who were being cheated and cripples who were being excluded. He was cleansing the temple because He loved it, and longed for it to be a house of prayer. He was angry because He loved God who was being misrepresented and dishonored.
In Mark 3 Jesus entered a synagogue where there was a man with a paralyzed hand. The sticklers were watching Him to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. He had the man with the paralyzed hand stand by Him before them all. He looked at them and asked, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. Then in Mark 3:5 the Scripture says, He looked around at them in anger and sorrow.
Do you see how His anger and sorrow reflected God’s love for them? He was angry because they couldn’t see that His healing demonstrated the power and presence of God. They could not see that He was God with us, with them. He was showing them that by the power of agape. They were more connected to the rules than they were to agape.
Several weeks ago our pastor began his sermon by asking if a sermon should ever be preached in anger. I said, hypothetically that one could be. But as he went on I agreed that a sermon should not be preached in the kind of anger that was tempting him. And I am convinced that God’s power is being released in our pastor’s effort to love people that he could be mad at. Ephesians 4:26 gives the odd sounding command, “Be angry and sin not.” The verb, “Be angry,” is a command. But just 5 verses later Ephesians 4:31 says,
“All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice.”
I find this an almost impossible paradox. When I am angry it is difficult to discern if my anger is selfish, if my anger is hateful, if my anger is absolutely loveless. I have to cry out to God to work supernaturally in me to control my anger and sanctify it with agape. I have to tell Him, “Lord, if You don’t work in me, I am going to do harm with my words. If you don’t help, my anger will do evil.” From time to time I have seen God working in me in this way. But I really don’t know how He does it. I cannot give you a philosophical or psychological explanation either from experience or Scripture as to how He does it. I have only one principle. I must be submitted enough to pray.
Questions for meditation and discussion:
- Can you see how anger can be an expression of agape?
- How can your anger be obedient to God?