Anger

I’m a little behind in sharing my Bible columns in this space. Here is the latest one, from the March 31, 2014 issue of Mennonite World Review. The scriptures I’m commenting on are Mark 11:15-19 (the story of Jesus cleansing the temple), Zechariah 6:11-15, Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 7:9-11,  Jeremiah 23:5-6, and John 19:1-5.

The texts in this issue are meant to be looked at on the final two Sundays of the Lenten season. Our anticipation is meant to grow with each passing week as we empty ourselves and turn towards the cross, the promise of resurrection dawning in the background, it’s light casting long shadows over the spiritual landscapes we inhabit.

It is interesting to me, that in the gospel of Mark, Jesus enters Jerusalem for his final confrontation with the powers that be, and the first place he goes is the temple (Mk 11:11). The text makes a note that he looked around at everything there, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany (roughly 2 miles away) with the twelve to spend the night, only to return the next day to carry out the protest we’ve come to term “the cleansing of the temple”.

This is an important detail, for it paints a picture of a Jesus who premeditates this angry outburst rather than marching in with his proverbial ‘guns’ blazing.

Indeed, In the cleansing of the temple, Jesus uses his anger for righteous reasons, rather than letting his righteous anger get the better of him. Yes, love can be angry; love can burn with angry passion.

Contrast this effective use of anger with the display we see in the reading from John. Here we read again of anger; only this time it is anger unbridled from Love. The soldiers and the crowds are controlled by their anger, reacting from fear rather than responding in love. Fear, too, can be angry and burn with equal passion.

So much of our religious experience today is reactionary. Someone wounds us, someone makes us angry, someone belittles a cause we believe in and suddenly we reach a breaking point. We snap. We react.

We flip the proverbial tables within our religious system, and we depend upon this story from Mark to justify our actions. After all, we tell ourselves, Jesus was angry too. Anger can feel so good, and we can feel so self-righteous in our exercising of it.

But I fear we might forget that the crowds were angry too, heaping scorn on the only one who can save us. Not all righteous indignation is of God. Indeed Jeremiah has some harsh words for those who would hide their true motives behind religiosity and proper etiquette.

There are good words in these passages for the Mennonite church today. Our anger should not be avoided. It should instead be reflected upon and it’s root should be exposed…lest we unwittingly heap more scorn upon our savior.

The great scandal of our Mennonite church today is that it is easier to love our enemies who live in Syria, or Afghanistan, or Iraq than it is to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is easier than ever these days, to surround ourselves with like-minded friends and family, happily ignoring those who think differently, happily turning blind eyes to the brokenness rather than seeking to bind it up for healing.

This is not the way of the Christ we profess, who cared enough about the brokenness at the temple to stir things up with an angry word accompanied by angry actions, carried out in love.

We are the ones crying for crucifixion, and until we acknowledge our fear and our complicity in the corruption of Christ’s church, we will continue to live only in the shadow cast by the dawning of the resurrection, not in the resurrection itself.

What fears do you carry? In what ways is your anger using you? How might Christ’s healing love reach out through you to friend and foe alike?

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