Posted by: mikebackup | March 9, 2012

Getting angry

John 2.13-22

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

 Charles Wesley wrote the hymn – Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, the first verse goes like this:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,

Look upon a little child;

Pity my simplicity,

Suffer me to come to Thee.

Jesus is often presented as a meek and mild ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’ type character, but this reading shows that this wasn’t the case? So what’s going on here? Was it a moment of madness, put in the Gospels to remind us Jesus was fully human and ‘lost it’ every now and again? Let’s put it another way are we here today because someone called Jesus was always nice 2000 years ago? The simple answer is no. Jesus got angry and God gets angry. Hang on I hear you say, where’s this leading, are we going down a God’s wrath route and all that? Again the answer is no. The main point of this reading is anger is something every Christian must feel and at the right time act upon. Hang I hear you say again, ‘anger’ isn’t that sinful, unloving? The answer is yes and no this time. Anger is wrong when it’s bound to hate, but anger is right when it’s bound to love.

To begin explaining this, let’s return to a word we’ve already used a couple of times – ‘meek’. In Matthew 5.5 is the well-known part of the Beatitudes – ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. There’s that ‘meek’ word again. When a Bible is being created in English, translators choose words that best fit the language and context they are translating for. In many cases the end result is only close to the original understanding of the word. This means the end result can mislead at times. In this particular case, the translation is accurate. The problem is how our understanding of the word ‘meek’ has been distorted. In English ‘meek’ has a particular association with weakness whereas at the time of Jesus it didn’t. An example of how many see weakness in meekness is helpful here:

            ‘According to Bill Farmer’s newspaper column, J. Upton Dickson was a fun-loving fellow who said he was writing a book entitled Cower Power. He also founded a group of submissive people. It was called DOORMATS. That stands for “Dependent Organization of Really Meek And Timid Souls — if there are no objections.” Their motto was: “The meek shall inherit the earth — if that’s okay with everybody.” Their symbol was the yellow traffic light.[1]

 Was this how Jesus was? Of course not! Being a Christian is not being like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore is treated like a doormat and he takes it all with a dry defeated wit. We need to be far more like another fictional character – Aslan. Aslan is very humble, gentle and sacrificial. Yet when others are wronged he gets angry and does everything he can to help. These qualities are at the heart of understanding what ‘meek’ means in the Bible. It has nothing to do with weakness, but everything to do with power under control. 

A look at the Greek word translated as ‘meek’ – ‘praus’ and the related word ‘prautes’ starts to unpack this a little more. In secular Greek writings ‘prautes’ and ‘praus’ was used to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken. Note in each instance, there is power that could go out of control.  A wind can become a storm, too much medicine can kill and a horse can break loose. 

 Aristotle defined it as the correct position between being too angry and never being angry at all. It is the quality of a person whose anger is so controlled that they are always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. It describes the person who is never angry at any personal wrong they may receive, but who is capable of righteous anger when they sees others wronged[2]. This is the Jesus we read of in the Gospels.  Here’s another example of when Jesus got angry for the right reason:

 Mark 3.1-5

 1Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

 Jesus shows us in no uncertain terms that being meek does not mean being weak.  When you start to realise what this means you may start feeling uncomfortable.  The following quote focuses this:

            “Jesus was a kind person, but Jesus was not a nice person. Nice people don’t get crucified.” Kindness isn’t the same as niceness. Niceness can be a vice. Kindness means wanting the best for another person, even if it means we have to be ‘not nice’ in order to do that. Jesus was administering justice by cleansing the temple, and he was also looking out for the best interests of the sellers, because the sellers were doing something damaging to their souls. Sometimes we are called to speak the truth even when it’s hard to hear, and Jesus was clearly speaking (and enforcing) the truth even though it was difficult for other people to accept that truth[3].

Christians tend to not show any sort of anger and everybody else knows it. Society knows Christians are far more like Eeyore than Aslan. We have to rediscover the Greek understanding of ‘meek’ and be prepared to engage in no uncertain terms at times.

 A.W. Tozer once wrote, “The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto.[4]

 Biting our tongue is sometimes not what we are called to do. Society may sit up and notice if it were seen that Christians were really fighting hard for the injustices going on in their communities and making a big noise whilst doing it. Our Baptist heritage speaks of people prepared to break the law, go to prison and sometimes die they were so angry with the injustices around them.  Let me put it this way, would you be prepared to come to church if it were illegal? Would you come, knowing that if you were found out you might be imprisoned, tortured and murdered? Would you be angry at the injustice of not being able to meet in peace and fight for it? Many Christians face this reality today around the world, so please pray for them.

 Thankfully we don’t face that in this country, but there are many injustices we should be angry about.

The millions that starve, the millions with no homes,  the babies that are dying right now because their mother is so starved she can’t produce milk, the women who are being forced to have sex because they are slaves. Righteous anger can change things. In 1984 an ordinary person watched the six o’clock news and then in righteous anger got the world to sit up and listen. It is of course Bob Geldof. So many people knew what was happening in Africa, but could only offer well reflected comments on the situation. What was needed was someone so enraged by the injustice of it all that they went and turned all the tables over and forced a change. The anger was so real in Bob Geldof and people saw the white in his eyes and were shaken into action. In a famous interview during Live Aid, in which it has become an urban myth that he swore to get his point across this anger was so real:

‘People are dying now, give us the money now. Give me the money now.’

 Bob Geldof back then and now is focused on injustice and how much that should enrage us all. In a reflection he wrote in 1985 whilst in Africa I have found no better example of true meekness. He focuses on the anger and making sure that whilst there is injustice that anger doesn’t die out over time or reflection.

“…it became an exercise of will to continue. An unremitting catalogue of misery, a marathon of figures to be assimilated, reports read, proposals listened to, meetings, meetings. My mind swam with the jargon: ‘rehabilitation’, ‘long-term development’, ‘displaced persons’, ‘stimulate the rural economy’, ‘depress the local market’.

But indignation was only a short drive away. Down in the camps whole nations lay huddled, wasted and ill. What everyone in those meetings was talking about was nothing less than the African holocaust. What they were describing was the death and hunger, the humiliation and hurt of millions upon millions of people who need not suffer it. What the figures meant was the sum total of our disregard for each other. What they added up to was the cost of all this dying to us all.

In Chad alone there are over three hundred separate languages, totally distinct from one another. Some of them have gone already. I never heard them but I miss them. In these ways the lights of human genius wink out.

This journey was not some jaunt into a personal heart of darkness nor was it a dilettante’s voyeuristic dip into the pitiless pain and degradation of others. It was a trip to refocus my outrage.

In the boredom of administration, explanation and justification you begin to lose sight of the purpose and reason for your anger. Questioning and rationalisation begin to replace impulse and action. Then it is essential to recharge the batteries of grief.

The learning process was beneficial, the visible achievement satisfying, the contacts and meetings worthwhile … but who cares?

I’m not thinking about those things tonight. I’m thinking of what I saw. What I saw was humanity laid bare, degraded and shamed by its own malignant hand.”[5]

 It is time to refocus your outrage and recharge your batteries of grief. This refocus is not on minor inconveniences like having a go at the bus company when the buses are running late, but where people are repressed, hurt, starving, homeless, abused, tortured and murdered.

 One very easy way to make a difference is to join AVAAZ. AVAAZ is an independent organisation that attempts to make a difference through the voices of people who are outraged at a major injustice. AVAAZ will highlight the issue and ask you to sign their petition, sign a prepared letter or call the people involved. Since starting a few years ago, they have become a very powerful force for change. They are showing how the ordinary person like you and me can make a real difference in the world. Visit www.avaaz.org and read about their success stories and current concerns. For those not on the internet, come here on Mondays and we will sort you an email out and you can add your voice to a major injustice in the world.

Then there’s taking part in our Sport Relief event. Take part because you’re angry at the injustice. You could also join Action Aid and Christian Aid. They will send you up to date information on the issues we need to respond to.

Let God’s anger be your anger and give you strength to be the change.

Prayer

Where earth is polluted and plundered;

where God’s creation is driven to extinction;

where habitats are destroyed:

let tears fall as we feel the pain of your creation

and make us holy as we tread the earth.

Where people are hungry or cold;

where children die of treatable diseases;

where women are trafficked and abused:

let tears fall as we feel the pain of injustice

and make us holy as we encounter the lives of others.

Where war denies the right to life;

where refugees are driven from homelands;

where people are scarred physically and mentally:

let tears fall as we feel the pain of conflict

and make us holy as we are challenged to live your shalom.

Amen.

 


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