Holy anger

biblical commentary

We’re angry at everything. Anger that dismantles statues, that chooses the far right on the ballot paper, that rejects or destroys the common good. Of course, we should not accept everything, and revolt can be positive, but perhaps the Gospel is simply calling us to put our anger back where it belongs. Opposite injustice, opposite what disfigures humanity. Like Jesus, let us rediscover our holy anger.

Holy anger
(Mk 3:5) Sébastien Gengembre

It is not clear that anger is the first feeling we associate with Jesus. He is more readily presented as a being of gentleness and peace. The same is true of the God of Jesus Christ, the God of love to whom the Gospels introduce us. Anger would suit the God of the Old Testament. Yet it has its place in Jesus. The term itself is applied to him in Mark 3:5, when the narrator reports that Jesus looks at his interlocutors with anger.

We are in the middle of a polemic between Jesus and the Pharisees, those Jews who claim scrupulous obedience to the religious law. Jesus was heading for trouble, because it was in the synagogue, where he was sure to find the Pharisees, that he proposed to heal a man with a paralysed hand, something forbidden on the Sabbath. And he did so brazenly, ostentatiously, placing the man in the centre of the assembly. As if to provoke those present.

By way of reaction, when Jesus took them to task, all he got was silence. They are incapable of recognising that a man’s life is more important than the fussy observance of their religious precepts, of whose meaning they have lost sight: to allow men and women to flourish. But the law has been perverted, and has become a new form of slavery, one which prevents the consideration of the good of the person in front of us. It is out of frustration at this hardening of the heart that Jesus’ anger is born.

The same story is repeated in Matthew and Luke, but there is no longer any mention of this anger. According to exegetes, Mark’s account is older and is the source of these two Gospels. Perhaps the authors wanted to erase a feature that they considered embarrassing in the picture they wanted to present of Jesus. In Luke 6:11, on the other hand, it is the Pharisees who are angry after Jesus heals the man with the paralysed hand. Luke writes that they are filled with fury. In Greek, a different word is used, and it is not the same anger that we are talking about. According to the etymology, it is an anger that borders on madness, an overflowing that leads to violence.

It is therefore possible to make distinctions within anger. Anger can be recognised by the fruits it bears. The Pharisees, under the effect of anger, come to premeditate the assassination of Jesus. And they do it, ironically in this context, on the Sabbath. In so doing, they are respecting the letter of their law, but fundamentally betraying its spirit. Their fury leads only to death. That is where their religious rigour leads them. Conversely, the act that expresses and gives concrete expression to the anger of Jesus is not a destructive act, but an act of healing that brings life.

On the one hand, there is exasperation at the one who questions the existing system, however absurd it may be, and murderous anger at the perceived threat to their own privileges. On the other hand, there is also anger, but anger at anything that mutilates life. The anger of the unfortunate man with a paralysed hand, like that of the Pharisees locked up in their dehumanising certainties. There is a time for this anger, for the indignation that mobilises, for the revolt that drives us to act in favour of more life and more justice. A time to stop running away from conflict. Jesus is committed to it, even to the point of giving his life to it. For it was to the cross that the conspiracy of the religious and political authorities steered him.

One way of making an idol of God is to water him down. We make ourselves a tepid, inoffensive God who won’t disturb our little deals. But the God of Jesus Christ, because he is a God of love, is a passionate God, passionate about humanity to the point that he engages in a fight with it, a fight for it. There is then room for anger, an anger that is not destructive but guided, always, by concern for the life and liberation of the men and women he cherishes.


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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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