Enlarging Our Picture of Jesus
Fr. George Smiga
March 10 - 11, 2012
John 2: 13 - 21
None of us has met Jesus face to face. Therefore our idea of him, our notion of the kind of person that he is, is derived exclusively from stories in the gospels. In this process it is often the case that we give weight to some stories over others. We can, therefore, end up with a lopsided view of Jesus. If you ask the average person on the street, “Describe Jesus to me.” Most people would say that he was a gentle and loving Savior who gave himself tirelessly for the sake of others. This is why today’s gospel is so important. In today’s gospel we are told that Jesus had two qualities which we often do not associate with him. Today’s gospel reveals Jesus as a person who could be combative and self- protective.
The combative part comes out in the first part of the gospel because it relates to us Jesus’ action in the temple. He takes a whip of cords and drives out the money changers. We are confident that Jesus did this action because all four gospels record it. But what is amazing is that we are not certain why he did this action. The text says he did not want to make the temple a marketplace, but this does not seem a complete answer. At the time of Jesus the selling of animals was necessary so that people could perform the required sacrifices in the temple. So in this sense the temple had to be a marketplace. What, then, was Jesus upset about? Some people suggest that he was opposed to where the selling was taking place in the temple. Others suggest that he was upset because some of those who were selling were charging unfair amounts. The point is, we are not clear. But what is clear is that Jesus saw something that required action and he was not afraid to follow his conviction. Jesus was willing to confront a reality in his society when he thought something needed to change.
The second quality of Jesus that emerges from today’s gospel is that he was able to protect himself. This happens at the end of the gospel where the evangelist tells us that he was unwilling to entrust himself to the crowds because he knew human nature. Now, of course, Jesus came to serve the crowds, to minister to the poor and the needy. Yet this gospel tells us that he was not afraid to place limits on that service. He was willing to set boundaries on how much he would entrust himself to others because he knew human nature. He knew that people could take advantage of him and that if he simply gave himself completely to others they could consume all of his energy and exhaust all of his resources.
It is important for us to see that Jesus could both be confrontational and self-protective, because his actions gives us permission to act in similar ways. Sometimes we think that a follower of Jesus must always be meek and agreeable. But today’s gospel reminds us that when we see something that is wrong, we can have the spine to say, “I do not agree.” When there is a problem at school, in our workplace, in our family, or in any of our relationships, we can insist, “This is not acceptable.” When we, ourselves, or someone else is treated unjustly or without respect, when we see someone doing what is wrong or manipulating someone else, we are true followers of Jesus when we say, “This has to stop!”
We also have the permission to protect ourselves. Sometimes we imagine that being a true follower of Jesus means that we simply have to give and give, no matter what others may ask of us. Like Jesus we should be aware of human nature. We should realize that people can take advantage of us. In those circumstances, we have the right to say, “ I know that you want me to do this, but I can’t. No, I cannot give this to you now.” By placing a boundary on our service, we allow ourselves to have the energy to continue to serve in the future.
There is no doubt that Jesus was a kind and loving person. But it is also clear that he could be confrontational and self-protective. His example gives us the warrant to speak out against injustice and to protect ourselves from harm.