When you should flip tables like Jesus—and when you shouldn’t
A Reflection for Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
“You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” (Lk 11:46)
Today’s Gospel reading features a Jesus we don’t always see: fiery, fed-up Jesus. This denunciation of the Pharisees and scholars of the law for their hypocrisy is often coupled with the passage from Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus flips the tables in the temple; they’re prime examples of a kind of “righteous anger” that motivates the church’s approach to social justice.
Personally, I love this Jesus. I know a lot of other Catholics who do, too. He feels very human, and his fervor is so familiar to those of us who can’t help but be angry about the injustices of the world today.
I also know, though, that I’m not as good at knowing when my anger is actually righteous as Jesus is. I am much quicker to assume that I’m right, that others are wrong, that it’s my place to enumerate all the reasons why. When Jesus does this, it’s rare, and for that reason it speaks volumes.
Next time I’m tempted to use Jesus’ righteous anger as permission to take joy in winning an argument or “owning” my enemies, I’ll think of today’s first reading, which lists the works of the flesh, taking care to include such examples as “hatreds, rivalry…outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions” and more. (Gal 5:19-20). The letter to Galatians pulls no punches; “those who do such things will not enter the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).
How often is my anger motivated by a heart for justice? How often is it instead driven by those works of the flesh, even if my opponent is also wrong or jealous or devolving into outbursts of fury? It’s not always so easy to know when the fight for justice calls us to outrage instead of to serenity.
Sometimes it’s my job to call out other people when they are acting like modern-day Pharisees and scholars of the law, but much more often, it’s my job to make sure I’m not falling into the very same trap.
For me (and maybe for you too), true humility is knowing this: Sometimes it’s my job to call out other people when they are acting like modern-day Pharisees and scholars of the law, but much more often, it’s my job to make sure I’m not falling into the very same trap.
As Jesus so aptly tells them, “you impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them” (Lk 11:46). Upon hearing that statement, we can all think of people to point fingers at, from our political (and religious) leaders to our own community members.
But the fight to end bitterness and hypocrisy and greed starts with ourselves. So we pray for patience and faithfulness and peace, and then we practice it. Since we’re not as good at knowing when our anger is righteous and when it’s not, it’s helpful to look to Jesus’ example and to ask him for his guidance.
Lord, help me to be more like you. If I’m honest, I know I’ve got the table-flipping part covered. That comes much more easily to me. Help me to be more like you in my gentleness, my kindness, my patience, my peace. Those, for me, are much harder.
Help me to be more like you.