Finding God in Anger and Laughter

two fists slammed down on wood plank table
Robert Bergman '93

In Ignatian spirituality there is an exercise where the retreatant is asked to visualize a passage in the Bible where Jesus interacts with a group of people. You are instructed to fully immerse yourself into that passage and become a participant in the real life of Jesus, engaging all of your senses. Inevitably when asked to participate in this exercise, I imagine myself in Matthew 21:12-13 when Jesus loses his temper and turns over the money changers’ tables and rages about the temple becoming a den of thieves.

In that moment of His anger I feel closest to Jesus as a person.

I’m sure most people do not see themselves in that scenario. I would bet the more popular one would be the Sermon on the Mount; however, I get the giggles in that moment because I can’t stop thinking of Monty Python’s: The Life of Brian, "Blessed are the cheesemakers…well obviously it isn’t supposed to be taken literally, it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products?"

But I digress…

“The Cleansing of the Temple” in Matthew 21 displays Jesus’s anger and tells a tale of His disgust toward what the Temple has become. He calls it “a den of thieves.” He sees a great place of spirituality, honor, and worship for the Father becoming a place of commerce: human conduct stripping away the sanctity of that sacred space.

Ignatius instructs his followers to “find God in all things,” to go out into the world and in every experience look for the hand of God. Jesus cleanses the Temple and in John 2:19 talks about how the Temple will be torn down and rebuilt in three days, referencing the Crucifixion and Resurrection. We are the Temple and we live in the Temple, and according to the teachings of Ignatius, we are to find God in ourselves and in the World around us seeking the good in all that people do and say.

Why is Jesus angry? Probably for the same reason He would be angry with the way we treat our world and the way we treat one another. God has much anger and vengeance in the Old Testament so why wouldn’t Jesus also find displeasure in the actions of the people of God? We are called to be better, we are called to find God in all things. We are called to be kind.

Our students go to projects and work with people who need their help—from attending international service trips and helping Amigos for Christ to working in hospitals and grade school classrooms in Ballwin and nearby communities. However, in some cases, they come back to school and treat each other poorly, the school poorly, and even the faculty poorly. How would Jesus feel about our actions? Would He call for a cleansing?

We need to be mindful of the way we act toward one another.

Our world, our temple, is a volatile space and as an Ignatian institution, we need to find God in all that we do and say. We are called as mature people to even find God in those with which we disagree.

At the end of the cleansing of the temple, Jesus goes on to heal the sick, and while He performs miracles, the children sing His praises. As the chief priests and scribes admonish Him for His actions and admonish the chorus of children who sing His praise, Jesus quotes Psalms 8:2, “It is sung by children and babies. You are safe and secure from all your enemies; you stop anyone who opposes you.” We are called to be the children, the innocents on Earth, to sing the praises of Jesus in the World, to find the hand of God in all that happens. Does Jesus love the den of thieves? Of course He does. He overturns their trade and the ability to befoul the Temple, but he doesn’t mistreat the individuals. He cares for their salvation by calling them to change, and they sing his praises for it.

Finding God in all things is a difficult thing to do; it requires an optimism that I often struggle with.

I am quick to anger and frustration and feel more like Bruce Banner in The Avengers when he says to Captain America, “That’s the secret, Captain. I’m always angry,” as he turns into the Hulk and defends the world from the Chitarui invaders. But then again, maybe that’s the key, being angry yet under control and finding the good and God in that anger as Jesus does.

I understand that anger is not a bad emotion; it can be fulfilling in a way, as long as it is not the default setting of your life. I have a student who is so angry that he walks around scowling most days. One day in class, he and I shared a laugh. He tried to use my origami stapler, the bane of many a student, and when he couldn’t get it to work correctly he looked at me with frustration and then ripped out a chuckle that caught us both by surprise; mostly for me, because I never thought that he’d break that angry facade. It was a moment of pure joy and levity that I marked down as a triumph for the year.

Since that one moment, I’ve seen him smile more often than I ever have before. I found God’s presence in that one surprising instance. This singular experience was transformational in my relationship with this young man; our laughter was God finding us and letting us have a moment of finding Him.

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