Sunday 8 August 2021
10th After Trinity
Revd Nicholas Mercer
It probably dates me to say that, as a child, both my brother and I were taught to say our prayers before bed
Before we got into bed we were required to kneel at our bedside and say
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild
Look upon a little child
Pity my simplicity and
Suffer me to come to Thee.
We were not always very keen on saying our prayers and, as such, both my brother and I both learnt to say the prayer at break neck speed
We also knew how to say it slowly or indeed demand to say our prayers when we wanted to delay getting into bed
But as far as Jesus himself was concerned, it sent a very clear message to us from an early age
That Jesus was a man who was “meek and mild”
I don’t think that either of us gave much thought as to the character reference when we said our prayers
However, the prayer has stayed with me all my life and always seems to surface when I read about the cleansing of the temple
Where is the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” in this story?
The account in Luke’s Gospel is relatively benign and you could be excused for not paying it much attention
However, the account of the same event in John’s Gospel is much more disturbing
It is depicted for you on the front of your service sheets this morning
Here we learn that Jesus made a “whip of cords”
He then drove out those people selling “cattle, sheep and doves” before pouring out the coins of the money changers and overturning their tables
Today he could be lawfully apprehended by the Church Warden
He could also have been charged with affray and possibly criminal damage
Despite this account, we generally don’t like to think of either God or his Son being angry
But the Bible tells us something different
In the Old Testament, God not only gets angry but his anger almost continually burns against someone or something
In the Book of Exodus, God’s anger “burned against” Moses for showing reluctance to lead God’s people (Exodus 4: 14)
His anger “was kindled” against the Israelites when they complained about their misfortunes in the wilderness (Numbers 11:1)
And we repeatedly hear from the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, expressions of God’s anger against his people
The prophet Nahum asks “who can endure the heat of God’s anger?”(Nahum 1:6)
I am tempted to say – like Father like Son – but Jesus’ anger is also evident in the New Testament
At the beginning of Marks Gospel we hear the story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath
When the Pharisees questioned him we learn that Jesus “looked around at them with anger”
And when he cleansed the Temple, we hear from John’s Gospel that, as well as driving out the money changers,
He shouted at them
“Take those things out of here, stop making it a market place” (John 2:16)
However, what are we to make of an angry Jesus?
Some people have tried to explain the anger exhibited by Jesus by suggesting that it represents the eschatological force of his second coming
As the Book of Revelation tells us, when Jesus comes again to earth, we will all encounter the “wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6: 17)
And perhaps the cleansing of the Temple is just a foretaste?
I am not totally convinced by this explanation and perhaps we can simply assume, instead, that it is not always wrong to get angry?
Indeed, we would not be fully human if we were not angered by things such as cruelty, deceit, injustice or mistreatment
Or indeed, profaning God’s Temple
But some go even further and suggest that the Gospel of Jesus Christ should make us angry
And, if it doesn’t, then there is probably something wrong with us
Archbishop Oscar Romero said that preaching the Gospel should be
[A] preaching that awakens… as when a light is turned on and annoys the sleeper – that is the preaching of Christ: Wake up! …such preaching must meet conflict. …must disturb… The vocations website of the Roman Catholic Church follows in a similar vein, telling aspiring priests
A priest is unlikely to have to repeat Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple … but his words will demand the overturning of people’s lives….
And goes on
The words of the Gospel demand a radical transformation in the way we think, act and live… The priest’s ministry includes a full presentation of the Church’s social teaching, taking seriously the Gospel as a message of freedom, of liberation from everything that oppresses God’s people.
Unfortunately, this demand for action puts at odds with other advice in the Bible
St Paul says “we must get rid of anger” and “put away all anger and wrangling”
And, in the light of this, how can we get angry at all?
By contrast, I often find myself exasperated by the Anglican Church and its seeming indifference to social issues
As if the Church of England exists to be the nations’ referee rather than a player on the pitch
I sometimes say to myself, “get off the fence and say something. Be angry!”
One commentator put it very neatly for me when he said:
Jesus is “not the benign ecumenical Christ of perpetual reconciliation that is forever “meek and mild” graciously asking Mr Moneychanger “Excuse me Sir but would you be so kind as to move your tables outside, because this is a house of prayer? Bless you
He is, by contrast, a very different and more complex type of man
When I was a child, “gentle Jesus meek and mild” was my mantra before the lights were put out each night
But when the Gospel light was finally switched on, a very different Jesus emerged