I grew up with the notion that anger was a sin, a conundrum for sure given that I had a short fuse and was prone to angry, even aggressive, outburst. But then I heard the story of Jesus in the Temple. Jesus became enraged, turning over tables, even making a whip, as he condemned the Temple leaders for allowing this holy place to become a “den of thieves”. Now that was angry! It also was what finally got Jesus killed.
All of Jesus’ life was a road map showing us how to live. This includes his rage in the Temple. This calls us first to be people of peace but to remain open to righteous anger. But I think there is a deeper calling in his actions.
Jesus’ behavior was an act of civil disobedience and an aggressive one at that. It was not an act of passive resistance. And it was directed at organized religion.
It has been said that religion is fast becoming irrelevant, especially to young people. It has even been said that some religions, especially Christian ones, have failed. And indeed if we look around, what we see is plenty of war and poverty with little change evident.
This failure and irrelevance is certainly the fault of religious leaders who have gathered power for their own gain. In my own Catholic Church, leaders are at fault for looking the other way when children were being harmed, opting for silence over protest.
But, in a larger way, those of us who belong to an organized religion are even more at fault. Many religions nowadays avoid making us uncomfortable. We are willing to attend a service but want to walk away undisturbed. We do not want our leaders saying anything unsettling. Yet most founders of religions, to include Jesus, very much wanted to make us uncomfortable. They want us to feel uneasy about our attachments to stuff and to position. They want us to challenge our governments. Jesus, with His Temple tantrum, even challenges us to challenge our religious leaders.
Donald Cozzens wrote an excellent book titled Faith That Dares to Speak in which he raises a strong challenge “The faithful have both the right and the obligation to question structures, practices, and disciplines that no longer serve the pastoral needs of the church nor its mission.” (p. 59, emphasis added). In other words, if we sense something is amiss within the structure of our religious institutions, we are compelled to intervene.
Such a point of view does not make one popular in religious circles, again because most of us want to be left alone. If you choose to challenge religious leaders, be prepared to be rejected and judged. The following excerpt from the very excellent film Mass Appeal illustrates that point. A young seminarian challenges a priest at Mass. The priest and some parishioners become annoyed:
In a similar vein, for a time here in El Paso I was labelled an enemy of the Church after speaking up about the pedophile crisis.
Organized religions belong to the people not to the religious leaders. If religion is to regain its relevance, perhaps we need to speak up.
And I do wonder what Jesus would do as he walks outside our church and sees a table for the automobile auction. He might start causing a disturbance, get arrested, and be referred to Anger Management!
Reflection: What is your own impression of organized religions? If you belong to one, are there aspects you tolerate? Is there anything about which you need to speak up?