Was Jesus Angry?
Did he overthrow tables and whip merchants?
Recently, I ran across this graphic in a couple of places:
When I was very young, certain teachings left me with questions. Being very young, these questions were not always well-formulated as I might put them now in retrospect. And being very young, with certain influences discouraging me from asking many of my innocent questions, I suppose I just expected explanations to come later which would straighten things out for me.
There were just things that seemed wrong, which I would now call inconsistent. Everybody likes the dry land, the new beginning, the reassuring rainbow promise part of the story; but that whole wiping out all of humanity because they were bad part: that just didn't seem to jibe, to my young mind, with the loving, merciful, forgiving Father Jesus talked about. It didn't seem like something Jesus would do.
Whenever I had questions about whether God was like this or like that, I kept coming back to Jesus. (A process which continues to serve me pretty well in my seventh decade.) But even stories of Jesus troubled me. That whole thing about the money changers was a special one. I only had a little kid's idealized vision of Jesus, but it seemed, as I'd say today, completely out of character, for one simple reason: He was scary. Jesus was many things, impressive, powerful, commanding, and strict, but none of that is scary. Why was he scary? Because he was angry.
I'd seen my mortal father angry, for example, and that seemed out of character for him. This of course speaks to what is or is not the real "character" of any person, but unbridled anger has always seemed to me to be a character failing. Yet Jesus didn't teach a scary God, and it was hard for my little self to imagine a truly angry Son of God. Strong and righteous, yes, but not angry.
I never asked anybody about it, though, as I recall. It just got filed in a kind of "what th..?" portion of my understanding. Along with a jillion other "what th's."
What do the historic records actually say? Very little.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Matthew has Jesus clearing the temple, but to whom does "them" refer in "said unto them"? Is he yelling at the folks he's throwing out or is he talking to his followers later?
Matthew closely copies the Mark source, or else both were copying the theoretical Q gospel from which both derive (which source was primarily the "lost gospel" of Andrew, according to Paper 121). The two accounts at least agree on what Jesus said, and generally what he did. However, to whom Jesus speaks is much clearer in Mark. The temple seems to have been cleared by the time Jesus is addressing that remark to his followers:
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Both accounts agree that Jesus went into the temple, cast out the merchants, overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of the dove sellers. Mark adds that [presumably Jesus] "would not suffer... any vessel" to be carried through the temple.
The good chronicler Luke comes along later, but doesn't give even as much detail as Mark. Even more than Matthew, Luke seems to suggest that Jesus is addressing the merchants while he's throwing them out:
And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.
John's Gospel, written long after, doesn't add much but does include a detail which entirely changes the picture and has been the real basis for the historically violent idea of the incident..
And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.
In John's telling, Jesus took the time to rig a scourge of small cords, and then used this weapon to drive "them" out, "them" presumably being the aforementioned livestock sellers and moneychangers, along with the livestock. Jesus seems to have spared the dove sellers' seats, at least, merely telling them to get lost and saying to them something kind-of like what he is reported to have said in Matthew and Mark. Finally, it's Jesus' disciples who recall something… entirely else. (?)
Vast libraries have been written on all the scripture's subjects, and I profess that I have not been a student of anything but the text of the Gospels themselves in researching this. I don't know how scholars interpret the various turns of phrase, in the original languages, or in post-KJV scriptural researches. To this unstudied layman, though, in all cases, Jesus seems to have been reported as acting alone, doing everything himself, and it's usually presumed he did all this in physically violent, if righteous, wrath, what with the scourging and all.
Even when I finally read the Gospels through for myself as an adult, my questions about this were the same. I still wondered, did Jesus really get angry?
MAHARAJJI’S LOVE of Christ was unearthly….
You never knew what a devotee's statement would evoke. A boy came one time and asked, "Maharajji, did Jesus really get angry?”
As soon as Maharajji heard the word 'Jesus,' tears came to his eyes. He was sitting up when the question was asked, and he leaned over on his elbow and tapped his heart three times with tears coming down from his eyes. There was total silence for a moment. Maharajji had brought the reality of Christ into everyone’s consciousness, and he said, “Christ never got angry. When he was crucified he felt only love. Christ was never attached to anything; he even gave away his own body.” And at that point everyone was crying—we had gone through the complete Passion of Christ. And all of a sudden he sat up and said, “The mind can travel a million miles in the blink of an eye—Buddha said that.”
Just as Mark clarified the account of Matthew, so do the Urantia Papers reveal a few details that ameliorate the Gospel accounts.
"The Cleansing of the Temple" is the title Bill Sadler Jr gave to section 1 of Paper 173. Dear reader may wish to follow that link and read that section's less-than-a-dozen paragraphs now, as it's too long to quote in full here. Four paragraphs detail the development of the merchandising in the temple court, and how temple visitors, especially those from out of town, resented this profane economy in the holy temple.
"In the midst of this noisy aggregation of money-changers, merchandisers, and cattle sellers, Jesus, on this Monday morning, attempted to teach the gospel of the heavenly kingdom."
Besides the general rabble engaged in commerce, two events are noted as instigating Jesus' actions.
One was an outburst of noise, the simultaneous eruption of an argument at a moneychanger's table and the blaring of a hundred bullocks driven from one pen to another. What a ruckus! The other was observing the taunting of "a simple-minded Galilean, a man he had once talked with in Iron, being ridiculed and jostled about by supercilious and would-be superior Judeans; and all of this combined to produce one of those strange and periodic uprisings of indignant emotion in the soul of Jesus."
And there you have it. Not anger, really. "Indignant emotion." In the soul. Of Jesus.
But before continuing with the account in Paper 173, we have to flip back to Jesus' first visit to Jerusalem, and the temple, as a youth, with his parents. This journey raised and then dashed the spirits of the young son of Israel. Consider what he felt when, "standing on the brink of Olivet, and Jesus saw for the first time (in his memory) the Holy City, the pretentious palaces, and the inspiring temple of his Father. At no time in his life did Jesus ever experience such a purely human thrill as that which at this time so completely enthralled him as he stood there on this April afternoon on the Mount of Olives, drinking in his first view of Jerusalem." UP124§6¶10 Like many mortal children in many innocent circumstances, he learned he was expecting much more than the reality.
Jesus was profoundly impressed by the temple and all the associated services and other activities. For the first time since he was four years old, he was too much preoccupied with his own meditations to ask many questions. He did, however, ask his father several embarrassing questions (as he had on previous occasions) as to why the heavenly Father required the slaughter of so many innocent and helpless animals. And his father well knew from the expression on the lad’s face that his answers and attempts at explanation were unsatisfactory to his deep-thinking and keen-reasoning son.
On the day before the Passover Sabbath, flood tides of spiritual illumination swept through the mortal mind of Jesus and filled his human heart to overflowing with affectionate pity for the spiritually blind and morally ignorant multitudes assembled for the celebration of the ancient Passover commemoration…. UP124§6¶15
This set-up for disappointment is echoed in the next paper:
From the time they left Nazareth until they reached the summit of the Mount of Olives, Jesus experienced one long stress of expectant anticipation. All through a joyful childhood he had reverently heard of Jerusalem and its temple; now he was soon to behold them in reality. From the Mount of Olives and from the outside, on closer inspection, the temple had been all and more than Jesus had expected; but when he once entered its sacred portals, the great disillusionment began. UP125§0¶3
Jesus suffered a cascade of disappointments during the visit. And he had trouble with the explanations for many of the ceremonial activities. "Jesus simply would not accept explanations of worship and religious devotion which involved belief in the wrath of God or the anger of the Almighty." As the visit went on…
Everywhere Jesus went throughout the temple courts, he was shocked and sickened by the spirit of irreverence which he observed. He deemed the conduct of the temple throngs to be inconsistent with their presence in “his Father’s house.” But he received the shock of his young life when his father escorted him into the court of the gentiles with its noisy jargon, loud talking and cursing, mingled indiscriminately with the bleating of sheep and the babble of noises which betrayed the presence of the money-changers and the vendors of sacrificial animals and sundry other commercial commodities.
But most of all was his sense of propriety outraged by the sight of the frivolous courtesans parading about within this precinct of the temple, just such painted women as he had so recently seen when on a visit to Sepphoris. This profanation of the temple fully aroused all his youthful indignation, and he did not hesitate to express himself freely to Joseph.
Jesus admired the sentiment and service of the temple, but he was shocked by the spiritual ugliness which he beheld on the faces of so many of the unthinking worshipers.
They now passed down to the priests' court beneath the rock ledge in front of the temple, where the altar stood, to observe the killing of the droves of animals and the washing away of the blood from the hands of the officiating slaughter priests at the bronze fountain. The bloodstained pavement, the gory hands of the priests, and the sounds of the dying animals were more than this nature-loving lad could stand. The terrible sight sickened this boy of Nazareth; he clutched his father's arm and begged to be taken away. They walked back through the court of the gentiles, and even the coarse laughter and profane jesting which he there heard were a relief from the sights he had just beheld.
Joseph saw how his son had sickened at the sight of the temple rites and wisely led him around to view the “gate beautiful,” the artistic gate made of Corinthian bronze. But Jesus had had enough for his first visit at the temple…. UP125§1
Jesus was not yet thirteen.
Now you have the deeper background for his "indignant emotion," and in particular the background for the actions Jesus took, according to the Urantia paper:
To the amazement of his apostles, standing near at hand, who refrained from participation in what so soon followed, Jesus stepped down from the teaching platform and, going over to the lad who was driving the cattle through the court, took from him his whip of cords and swiftly drove the animals from the temple. But that was not all; he strode majestically before the wondering gaze of the thousands assembled in the temple court to the farthest cattle pen and proceeded to open the gates of every stall and to drive out the imprisoned animals. By this time the assembled pilgrims were electrified, and with uproarious shouting they moved toward the bazaars and began to overturn the tables of the money-changers. In less than five minutes all commerce had been swept from the temple. By the time the near-by Roman guards had appeared on the scene, all was quiet, and the crowds had become orderly; Jesus, returning to the speaker's stand, spoke to the multitude: "You have this day witnessed that which is written in the Scriptures: 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.'"
It was this excited crowd who cleared the temple, burst out in songs of praise, and "all the rest of that day while Jesus taught, guards set by the people stood watch at every archway, and they would not permit anyone to carry even an empty vessel across the temple courts."
That's how you do it. That's real leadership. Inspiring. Majestic. Electrifying. He knew just what to do, with a sure sense of the crowd, and just how to do it right. Pure political genius with spiritual purpose. That, to me, sounds like Jesus the Son of Man and the Son of God.
The apostles took no part and were stunned by the whole affair, for reasons the Papers relate. There's no telling what influence their lack of involvement, or understanding, might have had on the reports that came down to us through the Gospels. To them, Jesus was taking actions that they considered unexpected and, probably — ironically for my approach — completely out of character for him. He was scary.
While Jesus got to do what his thirteen-year-old self could only have dreamt of doing, both for cleansing the temple and sparing the sacrificial animals, this was more important a teaching than that. It is not a protest against commerce, per se, as many have made it. It is not, as we see, permission for violence, even in "righteous" causes. It is, however, inspiration to strength, resistance to profanation, and assertion of rights by the principled. As the section concludes:
This cleansing of the temple discloses the Master's attitude toward commercializing the practices of religion as well as his detestation of all forms of unfairness and profiteering at the expense of the poor and the unlearned. This episode also demonstrates that Jesus did not look with approval upon the refusal to employ force to protect the majority of any given human group against the unfair and enslaving practices of unjust minorities who may be able to entrench themselves behind political, financial, or ecclesiastical power. Shrewd, wicked, and designing men are not to be permitted to organize themselves for the exploitation and oppression of those who, because of their idealism, are not disposed to resort to force for self-protection or for the furtherance of their laudable life projects.
A vital lesson for our times.