By John Johnson, Director of Domestic Policy
I recently came across a meme on social media that made me think about this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:13-22). The meme is an icon of Jesus Christ, whip-in-hand, chasing the money changers out of the temple. The heading reads, “If anyone asks you ‘what would Jesus do?’ This scene contains one of the most striking and animated depictions of Jesus of Nazareth cleansing the temple, written in three of the four Gospels. It is a reminder that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.
In John’s version, Jesus demands that the dove sellers “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”. John’s account stands out for how Jesus brings attention to both the sacredness of the temple and the foretelling his own death and resurrection:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.”
These accounts show three distinct threads. The first thread is “out of the mouth of babies.”, the second is the body as a “temple.” And the third is “Angry Jesus.”
I can apply these threads to the tragic events on Ash Wednesday (February 14, 2018) when Nicholas Cruz entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and used a legally purchased AR-15 assault rifle shot and killed 17 students and teachers and wounded 14 others. The worst high school shooting in U.S. history and desecration of a safe place of learning and development for the future our country, our world and the church.
With breathtaking speed and results, the students in the Parkland, FL community have effectively organized and are making their newly claimed voices heard on local and national platforms. Marches in Washington, DC and communities across the nation are being organized by these advocates. People across the country are dedicating financial support to these efforts. Policy makers are using the momentum that these young voices have galvanized to help push for better gun control policy. Corporations are quickly distancing from the National Rifle Association (NRA), while these survivors face death threats for taking a stand.
Gun violence occurs daily. Mass shootings are a part of our history and our reality, and yet here stand these passionate voices; young survivors who push forward unafraid and hopeful for successful change for all. I think Jesus understood the fragility and sacred nature of being human. I think that was God’s intention in becoming truly human: to live and die as one of us, to celebrate and mourn all that life offers, to find joy, experience pain and sadness, and sometimes to be angry.
This church, Christians, people of faith and secular citizens watch with dismay at the staggering and preventable loss of life due to gun violence in our country.
- On an average day, 96 Americans die due to gun violence—seven are a child or teenager.
- 62 percent of gun deaths in the US, are suicides.
- In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by intimate partners in the U.S.
- Black men are 13 times more likely than non-Hispanic white men to be shot and killed with guns.
- On average there are nearly 13,000-gun homicides a year in the U.S. (Everytown for Gun Safety)
It is sobering… and it makes me angry, and maybe you are too.
A Jesus kind of angry.
A Jesus fashioning a whip of cords angry.
A Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple angry.
A Jesus with a “zeal for your house will consume me” kind of angry.
A Jesus taking a stand where others do not kind of angry and passion not unlike the young people we see taking a stand today kind of angry.
For many years, I taught Sunday School to teenagers just like the ones who experienced gun violence in Florida last Ash Wednesday. What would I say to them if I could? I find myself compelled to confess and to apologize.
I confess my failure to do all in my power to protect so many of you in my care from the gun violence that has plagued our society for many years. I have expressed my grief of the senseless loss of life time and again, in particular, the murders of innocent students at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and now Stoneman Douglas along with countless lesser-known school shootings too numerous to count.
I am sorry for this, and I am sorry that our elected officials have failed to hear calls for common sense gun control efforts that provide protection for you and for all community members from those intent on using lethal weapons to kill and maim.
I hear your cries and pleas for action. I support, validate and “bless” your claiming of your voices to urge our society and our elected officials to respond where I and others have failed. I encourage you to organize, to march, to bear witness, to tell your stories and to vote or encourage others to vote if not yet eligible.
I commit to support you as you demand action and I pray for your safety, wisdom and vigilance. I also, give thanks to a generous and gracious loving Creator for each of you. Be bold. Thank you for your courage.
These forty days of Lent began with a tragic reminder of the fragility and precious nature of our being created by God. Angry Jesus reminds us that we can do something about it. The children are showing us the way.