“A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
In the Old Testament, there’s plenty of wrath to go around. God pours out vengeance to sinners and pagan rulers, knocks down temples, razes cities with burning sulfur, and floods the whole world. The Israelites are usually fighting one enemy or another, be it the Babylonians, the Amalekites, or the Pharaoh of Egypt. It’s a very hard couple of millennia that the Hebrews have to endure, from trying to find a homeland to waging wars to keep it from their neighbors, and then having to face exile and the rule of other nations.
But when you consider the New Testament, we get a different spin. Jesus is betrayed, accused of treason and blasphemy, and sentenced to a torturous death. Yet he never once curses or spews hatred against the Pharisees and Romans, nor does he attack Judas or the high priest’s servants as Peter tries to do. He forgives his enemies, even while dying on a cross. He forgives Peter after he denied his Lord three times. He even heals the high priest’s servant when a disciple cut off the man’s ear with a sword. Everything Jesus does, even when faced with his most dangerous trial yet, is a sign of love and healing.
But does Jesus ever hate? If he’s born without sin, is he capable of hatred? And for that matter, are Christians free to hate, or does such a thing contradict the Word of God?
In the Gospels, Christ gives his disciples these teachings about the persecution and anger they’ll face when spreading his message:
“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
“Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).
“Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
So far, so good. All these verses are unequivocal in their need for solidarity between believers. The only message Jesus gives about dealing with the unfailing hatred of others except to “shake the dust off” their shoes. Every other time, he calls for reconciliation.
But then, what about the Cleansing of the Temple? Isn’t it hateful when Jesus turns over all the tables and drives out the merchants with a whip made of cords? It certainly earns him the hatred of the Pharisees and scribes, who begin plotting to have him arrested, tried, and executed before long. But it is also hateful?
Pope Francis addressed this same passage last year in his Angelus Address. From his perspective, His Holiness believes the act of disrupting these activities in the Temple to be a sign of Jesus fulfilling the prophets’ message of salvation. Francis sees the Cleansing as something that can’t be separated from Christ’s upcoming Passion and Resurrection. As he puts it, “Zeal for His Father and for His cause will lead Him to the cross: His is the zeal of love that leads to the sacrifice of Himself, not that false love that presumes to serve God through violence.”
So Jesus is zealous, but not hateful. He attacks the items of trade brought into the Temple, but he doesn’t hate the people for doing it. He disrupts commerce, but only to prove a point: that they are disrespecting the house of the Lord.
As Christians, we’re called to follow the path of Jesus, to heed his words, and to live as he and his disciples did. Yet the history of the Church reveals centuries of violence, warfare, subjugation, slavery, and bigotry committed in the name of God (albeit taking it in vain). We as Christians have not always lived up to the example of our savior, though we esteem the few who do so publicly, including Dr. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. We sing their praises, but we don’t always recognize how we fall short in our lives.
Christ tells us that our zeal in faith will make us no shortage of enemies or persecution. Yet he never tells us to wage war against our critics, or to burn them in effigy, or to hang them from a tree. He says quite clearly, “Leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” There can be no room for God’s love in our hearts if we carry hatred there, too. If Jesus can forgive his accusers and executioners while pierced with nails and thorns, then why can’t we put aside our enmity when faced with offenses from our neighbors?
I don’t mean, however, that there’s no room for anger. Jesus and his disciples showed their anger when clearing out the Temple in Jerusalem. But it was anger motivated by love. It was anger that said, “Stop exploiting these people in the sight of God.” It was an anger tempered by humility. They weren’t avenging angels sent to cull the wicked, but men trying to get their neighbors—their brothers—to see the error of their ways. These acts match what Jesus said before about leaving one’s offering before the altar. They had to remove whatever blinded their fellow Jews to the sanctity of the Temple, even if it meant disrupting their day’s trade with overturned tables and cages full of doves.
We can protest, criticize, and condemn the actions and policies we see occurring in the world today. As Christians, motivated by our zeal, we have that right. But we don’t have the right to hate someone, no matter how grave their sins. We can exhort them to turn away from sin and live better, but if they won’t, then we might as well shake the dust off our shoes and walk on to where our message will be better received.