Is it just me or does it seem like followers of Jesus are subtly expected to be devoid of passion? There are times when those of us who are bent toward passion are told things like this: “tone it down,” “cool off,” and “just get over it already.”
But is this fair? Is this good? Is this healthy?
Isn’t their a place for passion in the life of a follower of Jesus? Isn’t passion the exact thing we need to fuel our missional efforts?
In order to answer some of these questions let’s look at the life of Jesus in John 2.13-25.
Passion in Jesus’ Life
I’m writing this blog from a Starbucks. I know, I know…how cliche! But that’s just the truth. And while sitting here quietly drinking my venti black coffee, I heard a man talking about Jesus. He referred to Jesus like this: “A short, long-haired, big-nosed, bearded, contemplative hippy.”
Does this description sound familiar to you at all? It certainly does to me. I grew up in a church culture which was influenced by the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. And the picture of Jesus advanced by the Jesus Movement was that of a hippy religious leader who said some esoteric truths from time to time.
But where’s the passion? When I think of a hippy, passion is one of the last words that comes to mind (unless, of course, by passion “free love” is meant!). But the kind of burning in the gut that causes one to take strong and even unpopular stands usually doesn’t mesh well with the Jesus-is-a-hippy idea.
However, even a surface reading of Jesus’ life will show something different than the Jesus Movement’s caricature. In the Gospels we meet a Jesus bubbling over with passion.
Passion in John 2
John 2.13-25 is one of the best places to see Jesus’ passion. In this section of John’s Gospel we see Jesus going to Jerusalem for Passover. When he gets to the temple, the house of God, he finds the courts full of people selling animals to be sacrificed and money-changers who are exchanging Rome’s coins for money acceptable at the temple.
This sight makes Jesus angry. John doesn’t use the word “angry” in this passage, but it seems pretty clear. Why else would Jesus make a whip (John 2.15)? This wasn’t just some passing frustration. He saw something that angered him and he spent the time to make a whip. That’s passion that was oozing out of Jesus’ pores!
So Jesus goes back and drives the animals out of the temple courts and overturns the money-changers’ tables. He then says to them, “Get all your stuff, and haul it out of here! Stop making My Father’s house a place for your own profit!” (The Voice translation).
Then some people who were observing Jesus’ behavior became confused and probably frustrated. They have a verbal exchange in which Jesus foreshadows his death and resurrection.
But what made Jesus angry? What ignited his passion?
The Cause of Jesus’ Passion
Jesus is obviously angry that people are turning the temple, a place in which people are supposed to be directed toward God, into a marketplace.
There’s has been much written about this passage in John 2, and many scholars, pastors, and authors point to the fact that the animal sellers and money-changers were likely engaged in price-gouging.
Think about it. It’s Passover time and people from all over the region are coming to Jerusalem to worship. A central part of that worship is animal sacrifice (sorry PETA!). So the demand for animals is really high and the supply is controlled by the sellers. What does that equal? Extraordinarily high prices.
The same factors likely influenced the money-changers. They knew they could adjust the rates of exchange in their own favor and no one could do anything about it. The temple only accepted a certain kind of money, so, again, the demand is high and the supply is controlled. Their rates likely skyrocketed!
And while some of the people who came to the temple could probably afford the ridiculous prices since they were wealthy, most people couldn’t. Most people had to save all year in order to attend a festival in Jerusalem like Passover. So, much like modern-day payday loan businesses, it was the poor who were taken advantage of the most by these folks in John 2.
Here’s my contention: Jesus passion in this passage was fueled by his anger that a place intended to point people to God was overrun by people trying to make a profit on backs of the poor.
Passion Is Okay
After Jesus goes on his rampage in the temple, his disciples remember Psalm 69.9 “Zeal for you [God’s] house will consume me.” His disciples understand what Jesus is up to, at least in part. I’m sure they were confused by his comments about “destroying this temple” but they understood his passion for the sanctity of the temple. In fact, that was likely a common conception of how the messiah, the promised Jewish savior, would behave.
So Jesus’ passion lined up with his disciples’ understanding of Scripture. And it made sense in it’s context, specifically regarding the taking advantage of the poor through price-gouging. In other words, Jesus’ passion was okay. It was acceptable. It was viewed by some (but not all) as righteous and justified.
Therefore, our passions can be okay too.
What makes us angry? If it’s something that is selfish at its core, then you should try to fight against it. But if it’s something that is more akin to Jesus’ passion, then let it lead you.
And what was Jesus’ passion like? It was concerned about God getting his due glory and about the poor being taken advantage of.
Are our passions ignited by these same sorts of things today?
This is just me — but I doubt that our anger over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays!” fits this definition very well. Neither does our anger at the fact that “that kind of person” is moving into our neighborhood or coming to our worship services. And our passion about the style of worship we prefer certainly doesn’t fit that well either.
There are plenty of things in our world that do match up well with the passion of Jesus. Here are a few: Concern that our churches point people to God and not to a generic American ideal; Passion for the proper and right treatment of the underprivileged and marginalized in our society; and Anger toward those who take advantage of the poor, especially if done under God’s banner.
But Passion Can Be Costly
Check this out: the Latin root for the word “passion” — passio — means “suffering.”
Friends, there’s a link between our passion and suffering. Jesus highlighted it in this passage. He predicted his death and ultimate resurrection. This is why a story about the crucifixion of Jesus is typically entitled or labeled as a “Passion of Christ,” like the Mel Gibson movie.
So it should come as no surprise that when we let godly passion exude from us that suffering may be in our future. People won’t always understand, just like some of the Jewish leaders in John 2 didn’t.
But passion that is from the Lord will lead true followers of Jesus to greater understanding, just as it did in John 2. It will be focused on God and his glory and on preventing people from taking advantage of others.
And it will often lead to suffering.
Jesus never promised to lead us into the easy life. That’s the American Dream! Jesus promised to be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28.20) as we follow him, where ever that might lead.
What are you passionate about? Does it line up with Jesus’ passion that we see in John 2? Will you fan the flame of your passion even if it leads to suffering? Will you let righteous passion fuel your missional efforts?
Let me know what you think in the comments below!