He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple area and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (Jn 2:15). The Gospels record only one thing made by the carpenter from Nazareth: a whip of chords. It does seem odd that our Lord, the Prince of Peace, would display anger.
(Fr. Scalia is parochial vicar of St. Patrick Parish in Chancellorsville, Virginia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
Does He sin by becoming angry? How should we understand it? Certainly Christ, true God and true man, does not sin. On the contrary, He reveals that anger is not always sinful.
True, anger is one of the seven deadly sins. Yet when St. Paul tells us, “Be angry, but do not sin” (Eph 4:26), he indicates a legitimate kind of anger. We can think of times that we have lost our temper. But we also know, almost instinctively, that there is such a thing as righteous anger, that we should be angry about certain things. The inability to become angry about injustice — about abortion, for example — indicates a soul lacking any sense of truth and morality. So when is anger sinful and when is it not? How should we manage our anger? A good understanding of our Lord's anger will help us better understand — and temper — our own.
Christ's anger proceeds from His love for us and is directed toward our eternal salvation. He grows angry with us when we sin because He loves us and He hates what hurts us. In the temple, Christ directs His wrath towards the injustice of the money changers and, more importantly, the lack of reverence for His Father's house. Those engaged in such behavior risk their eternal salvation and lead others astray. Therefore our Lord overturns their tables and drives them out, to call them out of injustice and irreverence — for the good of their souls.
With this in mind, let us consider our own anger. As a passion anger is not always wrong, but only when it strays from right reason. The problem is not that we grow angry but that we do so about the wrong things (traffic, sports, schedules) and in the wrong way (insulting remarks and even physical harm). More often than not our anger proceeds from pride and is directed toward our own convenience: what we want, when we want it, how we want it, etc. Rather than seek the good of others, we assert ourselves and insist on our own opinions, our own schedules, our own likes and dislikes.
Oddly enough, the same culture that has produced “aggressive drivers” and anger management seminars seems unable to grow angry about the right things. We should be furious about the spiritual devastation all around us: the lies about sexuality, the deceit of the young, and the neglect of God. We should be angry that God is offended and that souls are in danger. Such a well-ordered passion would prompt us to resist boldly the evils around us. Instead, we take offense at what inconveniences us and ignore what offends God. It is a sign of disordered passions when a man can lose his temper over traffic but calmly watch the most lurid and offensive shows on TV.
In the end, Our Lord's anger does not scandalize because we know also of His willingness to die for us. In that He reveals that self-sacrificing love is the best measure of legitimate anger. Does my anger proceed from love? Does it seek the good of others? Do I express my displeasure in a way compatible with love? Do I seek justice or revenge? These questions should guide our souls in controlling our anger. If we must be angry, let it be without sin. And may others know of our willingness to sacrifice for their good.