- When’s the last time you heard this?
- “Jesus is just so negative for saying, ‘If you love me, keep the commandments’.”
- But when’s the last time you heard this?
- “MY Jesus is nice, and He would never be an ol’ meanie! He forgives anything! I can break the commandments as much as I want! He doesn’t care! He’s nice! So, be nice!”
Probably that’s like a mantra that’s repeated so often it just makes up part of the background noise.
Let’s jack up the stakes.
Let’s take a brief look at the “cleansing of the temple” from those who were prostituting it for filthy lucre, but the Temple is Jesus, and the Body of Christ, of which we are the members. They are all Judas with their 30 pieces of silver. And if this pimping of the Body of Christ happens to the Head of the Body, Jesus, it happens throughout time to the members of the Body of Christ. Let’s see:
- “When the Jewish Passover was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables. So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those selling doves He said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2:13-16).
The Greek is crystal clear. The object of the action for when Jesus “drove all from the temple courts” has grammatical reference firstly only to the men (masculine pronoun) who were selling and the money changers seated at their tables. Then, when Jesus had struck these men with His whip of cords that He Himself had just made, only then did He also strike even (τε) the (τά – a neuter-inclusive-determinative, which would never be used if men were involved in this secondary action) sheep and cattle. The men would have started to turn on Jesus, but, in this mayhem, Jesus threw down the mountains of coins, overturning the tables, which took all the attention of these lusters for filthy lucre. Jesus now had the absolute attention of all for His teaching on the resurrection of His Body, the real Temple, three days after they will have murdered Him, which Jesus is predicting here, indeed, baiting here.
Imagine the scene. Jesus, picking up discarded cords (better described as ropes, as they would have to be hefty enough to be able to control both sheep and cattle), made a scourge from them, and full of adrenaline and anger for the prostituting of the Temple that was going on, walked straight to the sellers and money-changers and, without hesitation, before saying or doing anything else, started smashing down on these men, surely also right in their faces, and they would have instantly fallen backwards screaming and shrieking and raising their hands in front of their faces in defensive cowering. This would have startled the sheep and oxen which, if the mayhem of their handlers wasn’t already enough, the added whipping of the beasts from Jesus would have pushed them into chaotic stampedes around the Temple courts as Jesus also encouraged the beasts to make an exit off the Temple Mount altogether.
The very next verse tells the rest of the story:
- “His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for Your house will consume Me” (John 2:17).
We are living stones in that house, that Temple, living members of the Body of Christ. When Christ is filled with zeal for His Father’s House, He is also filled with zeal for you and I, the members of His Body, the living stones of the Temple. I love that. Jesus smashes to the ground those ecclesiastics who would prostitute us to their own love of money, to their own love of power, to their own love of being perceived well by others to gain false adulation. Jesus is zealous to protect us. Be comforted by Jesus absolutely seeing all. He will take vengeance. He is just. His justice is our mercy. Mercy is a potential part of the virtue of justice, as Aquinas says in his Commentary on the Sentences.
Was Jesus an old meanie? No. Jesus is our hero, saving us from diabolical ecclesiastics of all ages, laying down His life for us, Innocent for the guilty, that is, us, the guilty who would, in His grace, be happy to receive His forgiveness, His life, His truth, the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, who is love.
Jesus did all this with zeal and anger, sure, rightly so, with perfection, all good. And, mind you, He did all this with the Blessed Vision of His Heavenly Father, seeing His Father in the Face, with supreme joy. Jesus would not have done any of this if not for that Vision, if not for that joy.
We participate in this is some way with joy in the Holy Spirit. Even as a just rebuke (Galatians 2:11) is being made to those who stand condemned, as Paul reprimanded Peter, there is great joy for Paul even while he is put into anguish and anger by (at that moment) idiot Peter. Paul would not have been able to rebuke Peter, saving Peter from hell, if Paul did not first of all have great joy in the Holy Spirit, knowing that God is more powerful than our weakness.
- “But Paul! Why are you so negative all the time?! Why do you have to work so hard, and get imprisoned frequently, and often get scourged severely, and been exposed to death repeatedly, lashed forty times minus one so many times, beaten with rods three times, pelted with stones, thrice shipwrecked, almost drowning for a day and night, being on the run always, in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, in danger from false believers?! I’ll tell you why, little Paul! It’s because you’re so damn negative all the time! That’s why! You have to labor and toil and go without sleep, go hungry and thirsty, cold and naked and wear yourself out with concern because you’ve brought all that on yourself, stupid little Paul! You, Paul, are so negative! You should be nice! Nice, I tell you! Nice!!!!!!!!!!”
But, no. In all this, Paul is joyful in the Holy Spirit. The driving force of Paul is His joy in the Holy Spirit. That grace, that love placed in Him by the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the idiocy of those who are, so-far, without that joy of the Holy Spirit. That joy pushes him with the confidence that he just might win some souls over to the Lord Jesus, assisting in getting them to heaven. Great joy.
My hope is that, although I am a wretch, in grace I might be able to follow the example of Saint Paul with this joy in the Holy Spirit. He invites us to follow his example in Philippians 3:17. We’re not up to the task, but the Holy Spirit is.
Anecdote on being negative, but with great joy:
When I was a total brat kid, say, twelve years old, mom and dad brought us out to learn some downhill skiing. After all, we’re talking growing up in Minnesota. The rope-tow fee was just a couple dollars a day way back in the day. That same day I proceeded to get really good at downhill skiing, good enough to be bad, so as to get all the more good, as it were. I knew that it was best practices to know how to fall. I wasn’t sure about proper methodology, so I started “bombing it” – going as fast as possible – from the very top of the ridge only to purposely totally, spectacularly wipe out near the bottom, sometimes high into the air, and surely dead, but instead laughing, while both skies would detach and poles and gloves and the hat would go flying in every which direction. I did this again and again and again. Finally, my mom came over to me while I slowly picked myself up and she asked me what I was doing, as this was obviously done on purpose. I told her “You have to be good to be bad, and bad to be good, mom.” “And what does that mean?” she pressed. I made my explanation, which was not accepted, of course. But it’s true.
I heard a similar story from a seminarian who I saw “drifting” in a parking lot with great skill. I was envious, of course, and asked him about this. The first thing he said was, “You have to be good to be bad, and bad to be good.” I laughed a knowing laugh.
And the same goes for any priest who is “so negative”, who, like Saint Paul, is called out as being “negative.” It’s a badge of honor. Maybe such a “negative” priest is doing something right. That’s especially true if that priest is really quite happy, joyful in the Holy Spirit. Is it a wipeout-fail to be called out as “negative”? Sure, in the eyes of those who don’t know what they are looking at, namely, purposed “negativity” as wrought by the joy of the Holy Spirit. :-)
Jesus was so “negative” that “He became sin for us”, as Saint Paul says in his shorthand dictation. But behind that “negativity” and “sin” that those not-in-the-know-about-joy tagged Him with, Jesus is zealous for the members of His Body, and with great, great joy, just getting the job done for us, laying down His life for us, so as to then have the great joy of giving us as a gift to our Heavenly Father in Heaven.
Don’t be afraid of being “negative” in the joy of the Holy Spirit. It does wonders for our own souls and the souls of other. Be negative. Be joyful.
P.S. You have to know that when I’m writing or preaching with “negativity,” I am so filled with joy, so happy. It’s a blessedness of being deadly serious. Jesus was deadly serious with us. Ask Mary about it. She just as “negative” as Jesus:
By the way, another way to know you’re on the right track while being “negative” is that you love your enemies, that you pray for your enemies. I offer Holy Mass for those with whom I’m being “negative.” I think that’s really positive.
Also, if it seems like I’m bragging, you know, like Saint Paul was bragging, well, yes. And like Saint Paul I am a total hellion without the grace of God. It’s not me, at all, nothing. That joy is a gratuitous gift of God’s love. I thank the Holy Spirit for that joy. I don’t think it’s evil to thank the Holy Spirit for great joy.