Year B – 3rd Sunday of Lent

Year B - 3rd Sunday of Lent

The Long Nose of God

(Ex.20:1-17; 1Cor.1:22-25; Jn.2:13-25)

One of the most famous descriptions of God in the Bible comes from the Book of Exodus, where He is described as ‘… the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness and truth…’ (Ex.34:6-7).

In the original Hebrew, the phrase ‘slow to anger’ reads: אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (pronounced: erech apayyim), which means ‘He has a long nose.’ What does that mean?

When we get angry, our nostrils tend to flare, especially when we express our indignation. So, saying that God has a long nose is an ancient Hebrew expression, meaning that God is very slow to anger. [i]

We can be grateful for that, because many people today seem to have very short noses; they are often angry. Consider the story of the young woman who was engaged to be married. Her fiancé had saved $360 to buy her a Valentine’s Day gift. But she was tempestuous, so he decided to deduct $1 whenever she yelled at him.

By Valentine’s Day, all he had left was $40.

Benjamin Franklin once said that whatever is begun in anger ends in shame. But is that always the case?

In the Old Testament, the first person who gets angry is Cain. He is so jealous of his brother Abel that he kills him (Gen.4:1-8). And in the New Testament, the first person to get angry is Herod. He gets so angry that he decides to kill all the male infants in and near Bethlehem (Mt.2:16).

These acts are shameful, but Jesus demonstrates that anger can also be a normal, healthy emotion that leads to positive change.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem celebrating the feast of Passover. Every year, thousands of people went there to thank God for freeing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

Now, the Jerusalem Temple is meant to be a sacred place of worship. But Jesus finds that it’s become a noisy bazaar, with merchants selling animals for sacrifice. He’s furious and cracks a whip, telling them to get out. ‘Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’ he roars, and the place clears.

In one sense, Jesus’ action is not surprising because the prophet Zechariah predicts it in the Old Testament; ‘There will be no more traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (Zech.14:21).

But at the same time, Jesus shocks everyone because He’s condemning the whole system of Jewish worship. He’s declaring that Temple worship, with its ritual and animal sacrifices, has become irrelevant and is no longer effective in bringing people to God.

Jesus is protesting that religion has become too narrow, nationalistic and exclusive, for Israel has failed to fulfil her mission. God had wanted the Temple to become a house of prayer ‘for all nations.’ But instead, the Temple has been kept exclusively for the people of Israel.

The area where the Jews had set up this marketplace was called the Court of the Gentiles. It was the only part of the Temple where non-Jews were allowed to pray. But the hustle, bustle and noise of the traders made that impossible. [ii]

The people are shocked by Jesus’ anger; however, it isn’t uncontrolled rage. Rather, He’s demonstrating his authority. He makes it clear that everyone is important to God: both Gentiles and Jews.

In the process, Jesus changes the way people worship: from sacrificial to spiritual worship. And He teaches us that anger can be a natural and important way to express emotion.

The American theologian Brian McLaren describes anger as a source of creativity; a vaccination against apathy and complacency; a gift that can be abused – or wisely used; and part of the gift of being human and alive.

He compares it to the physical pain reflex. He writes: ‘What pain is to my body, anger is to my soul, psyche, or inner self. When I put my hand on a hot stove, physical pain reflexes make me react quickly, to urgently address whatever is damaging my fragile tissues. Physical pain must be strong enough to prompt me to action, immediate action, or I will be harmed, even killed.  

‘Similarly, when I or someone I love is in the company of insult, injustice, injury, degradation, or threat, anger awakens. It tells me to change my posture or position; it demands that I address the threat.’ [iii]

We can be thankful that God has a ‘long nose,’ for it means that he’s patient with us. But anger isn’t always such a bad thing.

Jesus shows us that anger can be a gift from God, especially when it prompts us to say ‘Enough is enough!’


[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year B, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2017:82.

[iii] Brian McLaren, quoted in Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations: Anger Does Its Work, January 18, 2023.