Matthew 12:12

And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

Scene: Jesus approaches the Temple with his disciples, its structure massive and looming before them. This is the center of Jewish worship, holding the very presence of God. But nearby, there are vendors hawking their wares. Tables of overpriced pigeons to be used for sacrifices, and likely others peddling miscellaneous, useless goods.

And Jesus is mad. “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” he says, “but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matt 21:13) He flips their tables, which I imagine an amusing sight. Gold trinkets clattering to the stone floor, and pigeon feathers scattering everywhere as the birds escape.

It’s easy to see this and feel justified in our own angers. Jesus was clearly agitated, so it’s okay if we get angry, too, when things don’t go our way. But is our anger justified?

It’s a tricky emotion. Consider the anger’s source: is it the result of your own elevated self-worth, or situations beyond your control? Or have all these little things piled on that you don’t remember the origin, and you’re just angry at everything and everyone who tries to rationalize with you?

I’ll admit, sometimes I’m quick to anger. Frustration with friends, co-workers, or highway drivers; a lack of understanding when I’m trying to learn something; a miscommunication that spiraled into an argument. I justify my emotions, because “Jesus flipped tables,” too. As if my irrational moods can be compared to the Son of God. Thinking of that scene at the Temple, I’d be angry, too. Those peddlers are interrupting my prayer time. They’re loud and annoying, and can you please just let me pass? But that’s not Jesus’s anger. He wasn’t angry for his own sake, but because they were defacing the Temple of God. His anger was for the sake of the Father.

Therein lies the difference. My impatience is usually selfish. I’m misunderstood, or I’m inconvenienced, or a situation makes me look bad. I’m being a whiny child who isn’t getting what she wants. This sort of anger has no roots in the spiritual realm and, without God, is unjustified.

Because in the end, none of this is about me. In keeping God at the center, I may (surprise!) even feel less angry overall. More compassionate, understanding, and willing to compromise. Jesus was swarmed by people all the time, a crowd that would have likely sent me into a claustrophobic panic attack. But he didn’t drive them away. He didn’t get mad at them for constantly asking to be healed. He loved and cared for them, and I can work to do the same.

Matthew 16:18, part II

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

At Bible study last night, we watched a video in which Dr. Allen Hunt described his journey to the Vatican. (I immediately wanted to turn to everyone and yell, “I SAW THAT. I WAS JUST THERE!”) He spoke of visiting the tunnels beneath St. Peter’s Basilica (which I did not see, alas) and standing before the tomb of St. Peter.

The basilica is built right above the location of his tomb. Dr. Hunt said that, at that spot, you can look up and see the floor of the altar through slats in the ceiling. Which means the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica was built directly above his tomb.

“Upon this rock,” he quoted, “I will build my church.”

We’d just celebrated Mass in a side chapel at St. Peter’s. It was still too early for guided tours (they’re not permitted before 9:00 a.m., to give people prayer time), so we had time to wander the basilica on our own. I don’t think I fully grasped where I was, until I approached the altar. Beside it was a placard declaring it the site of St. Peter’s tomb. Beneath my feet was the place where Peter lay to rest. Peter of the Bible. An apostle of Jesus. The very one Jesus entrusted to tend his flock.

The rock of Peter himself, who guided those first Christians to the truth. And the literal rock of his tomb, on which the basilica bearing his name—the center of the Church itself—was constructed.

I don’t remember much from what followed in that video. But I remember Dr. Hunt looking up at the ceiling, like he was still standing on that first century ground beneath modern Rome. “Upon this rock,” he repeated, pointing downward, “I will build my church.” And he pointed to the sky.

And, yes, once we broke into smaller groups, I shared some of my photos of the Vatican.

Tough Love, God Style

We’re often asked why Jesus had to come at all. After all, God can do anything. He could flood the face of the earth. Or He could whisk us all to Heaven at this very moment, basking in Heavenly light. He could appear in a cloud and demand our attention, bringing us to our knees in awe and fear.

Instead he came here personally, as a human being. And let himself be rejected. Why all the effort?

Israel never knew how to clean up its act. They stumbled, over and over again. God threatened to disown them, over and over again. But they begged and pleaded for forgiveness, and God granted it to them. God allowed them to stumble in order to show His infinite goodness. And with that, also prove that they needed him. Jesus didn’t come during a time of prosperity—it was an era of silence from God, in a dry spell of prophets. He arrived when hope was lost. In that darkness, He became Light itself. He arrived after Israel had learned they couldn’t do it alone.

I was reminded of this recently, when watching an interview on the Torah. In a similar fashion, they asked why God took so long to present the Ten Commandments. It’s not something I’d thought of before, since it seems to appear pretty early on. But when you consider the whole of history, and all that had happened before this event… it doesn’t.

Moses descends from Mount Sinai
with the Ten Commandments
Ferdinand Bol, 1660-1662

(Can you tell I’ve been into sacred art lately?)

There was a whole lot of history before Moses descended from Mount Sinai: Adam and Eve. The Tower of Babel. The flood. It’s even after Egypt itself, after the Israelites had been slaves for 400 years. Certainly they’d needed guidance during that time, and especially when they were vying for their freedom.

Despite my curiosity, the answer was one I should’ve known—the Israelites first had to learn they needed the Commandments. And they had to spend some time in darkness before God could save them.

They were doing pretty poorly on their own. Killing their siblings? Building a tower to reach Heaven? They were lost and searching for answers, trying (and failing) to seek this mysterious God. But God’s people had to fail. They needed guidance, but they first needed to discover this need on their own. It was only when they were whining and wandering the desert did God intervene with Hope.

He did it on Mount Sinai, and He did it again in Bethlehem.