Sermon Dear Sir
The email began with the words, “Dear Sir.”
I could feel the anger on the other end of the email. The author wouldn’t even acknowledge my name. He was a quiet man, and I could hear him spitting the words, “Dear Sir,” at me. I could feel his anger. You know what?
I. Was. Glad.
I had picked a fight. He didn’t know I was angry when I sent the first email. His message, the one that began with “Dear Sir,” was probably his third or fourth message in the string. He was pushing back.
I was glad that he finally got my outrage, my righteous indignation. He could feel my anger and I was glad. I was angry and maybe a little hurt. When he finally met my anger with his own anger, I knew I had broken through. I knew I had produced an emotional response. So, even if I didn’t get what I wanted, well, at least he knew how I felt.
Of course, all of this was completely unhealthy—even if I had a good reason to be angry in the first place. And if I’m completely honest, it was a bit childish.
Did I mention that I picked this fight with the treasurer of the church I was serving at the time? You know, the guy who signed my paychecks?
I should also mention that I was completely wrong in how I handled the situation. Completely wrong. But in the heat of the moment, I’d run the gamut of negative emotions, from fear to anger, to hurt, and then back to anger, and then settling on blind rage. And in the moment, I really wanted to indulge my rage.
The anger that we see in Jesus in our reading from the Gospel of John is a very different kind of anger. On the surface, the conflict seems to be the mixing of the sacred and the profane, corrupting the purity of the Temple by introducing money. Jesus screams at the merchants: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Jesus’ anger is righteous, to be sure, but there’s more going on in this story than meets the eye.
First, it’s important to note that this story takes place around the Passover festival. I’m sure that most of you know that Passover is the most important religious observance in Judaism. It’s central to the faith; it commemorates the Jews’ release from slavery in Egypt. In fact, the Book of Exodus tells us that the festival was first celebrated in Egypt before the Jewish people left—Passover marks the beginning of their freedom and the Exodus from Egypt.
By Jesus’ time, the animal sellers and the money changers had become necessary features of the religious ecosystem around the Temple in Jerusalem. Pilgrims would have come to Jerusalem from all over. Most would have come from nearby: Judea, Samaria, Galilee, parts of present-day Israel. Others would have come from much farther away: present-day Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and even Rome.
In short, people would have come from lots of different places, with lots of different kinds of money. And if they wanted to go to the Temple in Jerusalem and make animal sacrifices, they had to buy the animals there. They had to buy them in the local currency. So, of course there had to be money changers at the Temple. This wasn’t a new practice. It was part of the religious infrastructure; it was a practice that everyone accepted.