Righteous Indignation

“Justice is always defined in a relationship that is seeking to rightly balance itself.”

“Justice is always defined in a relationship that is seeking to rightly balance itself.”
It seems that we have a much larger group of the “righteously indignant” these days. By that I mean the “righteous indignation” when the friendly conversation tips over into frustrated angst, then argument, and then at some point, we make a mental shift to a belief that “this person is never going to understand anything that I say.”

From there it is a short jaunt to becoming a sanctified, justified activist for what is “right”. Which is fine, I guess. But it may be that we are missing some of the original intentions of Jesus’s behavior in the temple when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers.
A key to understanding the principle of righteous indignation is that it is based inside of the larger Christian concept of justice. And, the working definition of justice is being in a right relationship with one another.

Being the owner of a righteously indignant position is a frightful thing. Consider that the entire premise of “The Hulk” as a superhero persona is to provide a mythology for the willful destruction of evil in hyperbole by way of the catalyst of righteous indignation. We simply love to see that the “bad guys are going to get what they have coming to them.” Whoever “they” are.

Honestly, I’m a little saddened that the idea of assuming a physically threatening posture is considered a rational Christian ethic. The greatest fear is that once we assume the mantle of the righteously indignant then we stand justified in our wrath and begin turning over things – “less talk, more action”. What happens when both sides believe that they are righteous in their indignation? Is that a thing? Sounds like a recipe for a Cold War.
It is rightly understood that our culture’s DNA is to be honest, truthful, and to be advocates, activists and proponents of good things for the sake of others, especially the underserved. But in pondering the stories of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple one might wonder if the usage of this moral predisposition is really understood all that well.

There were two times that Jesus is seen as the guy throwing tables across the room. In both instances he was responding to something that we need to understand carefully.

The Jewish Law required that every person should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of “half a shekel”, a Jewish coin. During large feast days thousands of people would come from all over and need to exchange whatever currency they came with into shekels. So, money
changers were there to help. Each time money was changed the vendors would keep a small percentage for their fee. Because of the large numbers of people, money changing was a very profitable business and one that often resulted in fraud and the oppression of the poor who were seeking access to worship.

If you consider the context of the virtues that roused Jesus’s ire, you see that his indignation had nothing to do with his own self, nor did he have regard for anything good that might come to him. Rather, the temple’s integrity as a place where people could have their fears and concerns resolved in worship was being corrupted by a business that was not only self-seeking, but also at the expense of the poor. It was time to act on the part of the disenfranchised in a way that sought to restore a just relationship. Between everyone. In other words, one must survive the brunt of indignation in order for it to be effective, or else, it is just an assault.

Claiming personal righteousness is a pretty difficult thing for anyone to get away with except Jesus. But whether it’s about us, or someone else, righteousness is always about justice. And justice is always defined in a relationship that is seeking to rightly balance itself. A righteous posture understands mercy, grace and forgiveness. Jesus’s zeal was in the context of the Temple being defiled … made into a “den of thieves”, and the poor were being prayed upon. Even in this, I would argue that the intention was to restore what is good and to have even the money changers turn back to a godlier way of life, if possible.

Advocating for others to have greater access to personal resolution, grace or peace is a sure sign that one’s passions are placed well. If the restoration of the relationship between us and the perceived violator of our dignity is not our goal, then we are not acting out of a moral sense of righteous indignation. It may seem counterintuitive but righteous indignation is a “love-comes-first” approach to solutions. Even in the turning of the tables, the expression of hope is not to destroy, but always to restore what is good and right.

Restore meaning.
Restore hope..
Restore understanding.
And, if there is any way possible, restore community.


Help us become righteously indignant for the sake of LOVE. May our passion burn for others; so much that we will make even our own selves an offering to restore hope, fellowship and understanding in our world.

About Joel’s Notes

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Joel’s notes are a curated collection of prayers, reflections, thoughts, ideas and other gems authored by CHI St. Luke’s Division Senior Vice President Joel James. To contact Joel, click here.

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