Almost every time I write or speak about the gentleness of Jesus, someone is quick to remind me that Jesus also got angry.
“Jesus wasn’t always meek and mild”, they’re quick to point out. “He called the Pharisees white-washed tombs!” “He told Peter ‘get behind me Satan!’” And the big favorite, “he grabbed a whip and turned over tables in the temple!”
Yes he did.
But pause for a moment and think about that. With all that was written about Jesus by people who spent every day and night with him for several years (or, in Luke’s case, interviewed those eyewitnesses), there are so few expressions of anger from Jesus that they can be counted on one hand with fingers left over.
Take a look at how Jesus’ anger played out. He called one of his disciples, Satan. He called the leaders of his own religion, serpents. He flipped over some tables.
No swords, no wars, no calling down fire from heaven.
Jesus’ greatest expressions of anger were no more violent than calling people names and breaking some furniture (in his own house, BTW). There were a couple other incidents that could be seen as anger, but they were even less severe than that. (That poor fig tree.)
Who can say they’ve known anyone – especially anyone of passion and influence – whose anger was that infrequent and expressed that mildly?
What Should Anger Us
Plus, take a look at where those few bursts of anger were directed.
Jesus’ anger was never pointed outwardly at the world. Yet he lived in a time when the prevailing political and military climate was about as evil and despotic as any time in history. When morality was debased beyond the comprehension of almost any of us. He literally had a confrontation with the devil himself and didn’t respond angrily.
Unlike almost every other leader in history, Jesus’ anger was always directed at the sins within his own house first.
This is something that his followers need to play closer attention to. We get angry at the sins of others too often, and angry at our own sins too seldom.
Love Our Enemies
One of the many reasons I am such a fervent follower of Jesus is this difference in the way he treated people. When Jesus got angry, he didn’t demonize his enemies or gather an army to defeat them, he told his followers to love our enemies.
His anger was reserved against those who should have known better. Those who should have loved their enemies. Those who should have taken the humble road. Those who should have turned the other cheek instead of putting themselves first.
Don’t Get Mad At The Victims
When Jesus was confronted with the sins of the culture around him, he challenged it, loved the people victimized by it, and offered an other-worldly alternative to it. But he never got angry at it.
He was sad about it, frustrated by it, heartbroken over it, and gave everything he had to redeem it. But he never got mad at the people entrapped by sin. Even if they were entrapped by their own sin.
Jesus expected sinners to act like sinners. He got mad when saints didn’t act like saints.
Finally, Jesus took his own teaching so seriously that when his enemies turned against him in the most violent and unfair way imaginable, when they tried to provoke an angry reaction from him, when anger surely would have been an appropriate and long overdue response . . . he said almost nothing. Instead, he asked for forgiveness on behalf of those who didn’t even see their need of it.
The Power Of Rare Anger
Anger has its place.
But it should be rare, measured and directed at self-correction first – especially in the lives of Jesus’ followers.
In a world in which anger is overused, being slow to anger may make a stronger statement than all our yelling ever could.
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