3rd Sunday in Lent
Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:22-25; Gospel John 2:13-25
My Anger?  Jesus’ Anger?  Who is right?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 3 March 2018

In today’s Gospel of St John, that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus in His anger, made a whip and drove out the money changers’, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon sellers, “Take all this out of there and stop turning My Father’s house into a market.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us first understand the context of this scene of St John’s Gospel, which is different in its purpose from the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The Jews were all travelling long distances, and from all over to go to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast; the most important Feast of the year, for them.  And a very important part of the Feast is for Jews to offer sacrifices of animals and pigeons.  And, considering what Jesus has done in displaying His intense anger, Jesus was effectively turning the mechanics of the Temple worship into chaos, disrupting the whole Temple system, and making the worship in the Temple, impossible for that day. 

The Jews who were gathered in the Temple, who did not know Jesus, said to themselves, “this man is just like any of us, who is he to destroy our worship?”  And rightly so, they demanded from Jesus, “What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?”  Jesus’ answer was, “Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.  The Jews were greatly astonished and remarked, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary; are you are going to raise it up in three days?” 

Obviously, the Jews could not comprehend what Jesus was saying as they were interpreting His Words literally, when in fact, Jesus was referring to the Temple of His own Body that is to be destroyed through His Death on the Cross, and then in three days, He would rise to from His Death.  As such, in cleansing the Temple, the Authority that Jesus used was the identity of His Divinity; that He indeed is God fully Present to everyone.  Jesus then is the testimony of God’s Power in the world whom everyone should focus on, instead of being preoccupied with the rules and practices of the cultic-Temple worship of the sacrifice of animals.

My sisters and brothers is Christ, in the light of the meaning of the Truth of this “Cleansing” scene of the Temple, the anger” of Jesus is therefore a justified anger, as He was revealing and upholding the Truth of His Identity.  Likewise, for us, we are each called to reflect on the truth that not all expressions of “anger” are bad and sinful.  St Paul, says to the community of Ephesus, “If you are angry, let it be without sin.”  (Eph.4:26).

In fact, if we want to live a Christ-like life, then there are many situations of our daily life that should make us angry; and not to be affected and not to be angry in such situations would be even be signs that our faith is not deeply Christ-centred.  One example of such a situation where we should be angry is when we encounter people who promote and support abortion and justify them merely through superficial and distorted use of medical science, and other superficial social reasons of avoiding shame, when in truth what is at stake is that the foetus in the mother’s womb is a real person’s life, not a mere tissue. 

Should we not be angry at those who promote inter-religious disharmony and attempts to destroy the peace and social fabric of our society, through terrorism, and extreme distorted views of religion? 

Should we sit back and accept that pornography is harmless and can be justifiably used, to feed our emotionally wounded ego or a heart that is deprived of true affection and love, and a fragile married and priesthood vocation, when in reality such self-gratifying lifestyles distort and can even destroy us, our family, and our vocations? 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I have only cited three examples, and this list can go on and on.  However, let us also remember that there are many aspects of “anger” that we as Christians should be cautious of and should avoid, as they are sinful, and unChrist-like. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, anger, we know can be seen as emotional outbursts; and in our Christian faith, our “anger” too can be one of the Seven Capital and grievous sins that we commit.  Anger could be a Capital Sin because it can lead us into other sins like hatred, violence and other forms of destructive behaviour. 

Bishop Kevin Rhoades, once explained that Anger is an unruly passion that can easily become sinful.  Sinful anger is opposed to both justice and charity.  Anger is clearly against Jesus’ teachings of the love of God and neighbour, and anger is often rooted in self-absorption and pride.

Bishop Kevin explains further, “I write about this sin of anger because it causes devastating effects on human relationships, within families and between spouses. It can have harmful effects in the Church too: angry priests easily hurt parishioners and angry parishioners can easily hurt their priests.  As such, anger a great hindrance to growth in holiness.

Sadly, I see or hear about such anger regularly; most often in letters and e-mail communications.  When people get angry over something, they tend to react without reasonable deliberation, and quickly shoot off an angry text or e-mail.  In the anger of a moment, we can send out an angry and hurtful comment, that we often later regret.  We should not underestimate the harm done by angry words.

Every capital sin or vice has a corresponding, contrary virtue. In the case of anger, the contrary virtue is meekness.  Jesus taught the Beatitude: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus also described Himself as meek and humble of heart. He calls us to imitate His meekness.

Meekness helps us to control anger. Meekness is closely connected to love. It can be described also as gentleness, kindness, and mildness. It moderates, controls, and calms angry feelings. It is related also to clemency. Meekness is not weakness. On the contrary, it is a strong and vigorous virtue whereby one gains control and authority over one’s anger, instead of allowing our anger control us.” [unquote].

According to Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, the first tactic in angry people is often passive-aggressive behaviour.  I will describe some of the attributes and attitudes of such a person, and let us ask ourselves, “Have we come across such a person, or is the person living in my family or do am I actually the passive-aggressive behaviour, that is being described? 

And so, Dr Daniel says, “The angry person showing passive-aggressive behaviour agrees to do something but never does it.  The symptoms include: resentment and opposition to the demands of others, complaining about feeling underappreciated or cheated, procrastination, stubbornness, inefficiency, memory lapses, sullenness, irritability, and a cynical or hostile attitude. 

Another passive-aggressive expression of anger, often mentioned by psychologists, is the silent treatment. The basic idea is “I won’t get angry. I’ll get even.”  “I won’t talk to you because I am unhappy with your behaviour.” It may be a day, or a week, or even two weeks before the angry person opens up.  The silent treatment is a symptom of bad communication skills and immaturity. It usually doesn’t solve anything.

Another example of passive-aggressive behaviour is to do things we know will irritate the person who has angered us.  Taking revenge is sinful.  So, as a first step in overcom­ing passive-aggressive anger, let us keep reminding ourselves that we want to be a good Christian, and therefore we cannot take revenge anymore.

Another dysfunctional expression of anger is illustrated by those who, filled with bitterness, continually bring up the past sins of others. They may not blow up, but they seem to be always on the verge of doing so.  A wife who intended to leave her husband loaded him down with e-mails enumerating his failures of the past. This she did on the rare occasions when she did communicate with him. Such a person’s mind-set would be, “You made me suffer in the past, so I will make you pay for the rest of your life”. And when person hears of “forgiveness,” he/she would remark, “forgiveness?  What’s that?”  Strangely such a person would continue to hang on to their angry behaviour; even while praying and attending daily Mass and receiving Holy Communion and be in a complete disconnect with the Christian religion!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, to illustrate further , I would like to add the story of a little boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him, “Son, every time you lose your temper, hammer a nail into the back of the fence.”  The son agreed.  On the first day, the boy drove 20 nails into the fence.  Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails he hammered daily gradually became less, as he discovered that it was getting easier to control his temper.  Being happy with his progress, the boy reported his success to his father. His father being a wise man advised, “Son, while you have done very well, there will still be days when you will get angry, as there will still be some anger in you.  So, when the anger surfaces, and you are able to control it, pull out a nail.  After some months, the boy finally approached his father and said, “Dad, I have finally pulled out all the nails in the fence.” 

The father then took his son by the hand and led him to the fence and said to him, “Son, you have done very well, but look at the holes in the fence that you have made.  The fence was clean and smooth before, but now it is filled with the holes that you have made; it will never be the same.  And so, my son, remember, when you say things in anger, your words would cause hurts and wounds in someone, like all these holes and scars that you now leave behind.  Even if you have said sorry for the hurts you have caused, the wounds and the scars will still be there.  So, son, be very careful at what you say, and the anger you show." 

As I conclude, let us remember that you and I are not perfect; we are all sinners.  Bishop Kevin says, “If we wish to grow in holiness, we cannot be angry persons.  We may experience angry feelings. That is part of being human.  But to persist in anger and become angry persons is a tragic and dangerous thing.  It is like a cancer in a person’s soul.  We live in a culture where there is a lot of anger on display.  Anger can also be in our homes and in our hearts and yes, even in our church communities.  Let’s fight this spiritual evil that is so poisonous, and is a serious sin against the love of God and our neighbour. 

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us believe strongly and firmly that as in the scene of the Cleansing of the Temple, Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us that He is truly the God of our lives. Let us put Him truly at the centre of our lives and in doing so, let us discover a new that with Jesus’ Compassionate Love and Mercy, He will truly be able to give us the strength and the wisdom to live the holy life that you and I long to live, instead of being consumed by the anger of our lives that can potentially destroy ourselves, our family, our communities, and most importantly of all our relationship with Jesus.

(Story, adapted from: www.english-for-students.com/Bad-Temper.html)
(Re: Adapted from: Today’s Catholics; serving the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend; Bishop Kevin. Rhoades, on Capital Sins, March, 2014)

(Adapted from: www.cfalive.org; Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Morrow’s Overcoming Sinful Angerwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.) 

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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