Scripture: Lectionary 501. Nov.22. I Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59. I Chronicles 29:10.11.11-12.12. Luke 19:45-48.
Often the sacred and the secular do not mix very well. Today’s Gospel is a prime example how even during the time of Jesus in the first century there was a clash between the two. It was Jesus who raised the consciousness and consciences of those who were “buying and selling” in the Temple courtyard making it a “den of thieves” as Jeremiah the prophet had said and now Jesus proclaims while displaying his “justifiable anger.” I know some readers of the Gospels are scandalized that the Son of God would lose his temper. Even more they complain and are shocked that he cursed a barren fig tree during a time in which it could not bear fruit.
One of the important ways of reading Scripture is by knowing the culture, the norms, and the background of the times in which the books were written. Another principle I learned from a religious sister who taught at a university is to observe the following guideline: “Text without context is pretext.” By pretext she means our a priori eisegesis on texts or our personal bias and opinion without knowing where and when the text comes from. Most beginners make this mistake and often preachers do so, too. Homework and Scripture courses are important remedies for our deficiencies in Bible reading.
We all know that anger is at rare times justified. The occasions when Jesus has displayed his anger are justifiable for his “losing his cool.” His humanity is so real that many pious readers of the Gospels forget that and only look at the Divine Jesus or the Jesus of their personal devotions. His strong human convictions are based on his intimate relationship with God and his knowing well the patterns and thoughts of humans. He was intelligent and critical when reading the signs of his time. His judgments were “right on.”
In both events the context of prophecy helps the reader to see where he is coming from. It is evident if one reads the circumstance surrounding his actions and his specific locution about a fig tree not blossoming at the time he saw it even though it was not the time for blossoming.
Sometimes we tend to be too pious and maybe find our own reasoning a way of exonerating our own inward anger and unsavory dispositions of excessive piety or superstitious rituals we think are religious. Perhaps, without the rules above such people with “pious ears” are shocked or scandalized. Jesus’ life was not a “bowl of cherries” type of life; he knew how to “hold them, how to fold them, and when to let them go.”
These scenes are very realistic and we should take them as such as moments in the human life of the Jesus who lived in his times and knew the culture and manner in which to express “justifiable anger.” We learn that sacred places and churches are not to be commercialized or glamorized. There are proper ways of requesting funds for church projects that should be openly discussed and shared by the church as a whole.
Sometimes in our lives we will have to express “justifiable anger” which may shock people into doing the right thing for the right reason. Repressed anger can make oneself very ill and others as well. Another little principle that may help us is that “all things in moderation.” Jesus was exercising a prophetic role in both instances. One confirms a prophet named Jeremiah; the other was his own prophecy about the lack of response to the call to repentance, acceptance of the Good News, and to the difficult journey with Jesus all the way to the end. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.