An alternate telling of Mark chapter 3:
Jesus encountered a man with a withered hand. And not just a shriveled up hand; his whole life was compromised and challenged. He was an outsider, a pariah – either suspect or pitied.
The leaders of this congregation (who had tremendous religious and political influence in that city) watched closely to see what Jesus would do. Their reputation was at stake because they were careful, pious rule-followers and this was the Sabbath, after all.
Jesus looked piercingly at the leaders. He questioned these people who were charged with the care of their flock, who were chosen to attend to their welfare and seek their best interests.
“What do you think?” Jesus queried. “Is it lawful, is it right to heal or harm? Should we be about saving lives? Or do we just let people die?”
The religious leaders had their own agenda that had nothing to do with actually caring for the people who were placed in their care. (After all, they did have tremendous religious and political influence in that city.) They stared at Jesus with a stony silence. If Jesus dared heal a man in their synagogue on the day of rest, then people might get the wrong impression.
And Jesus stared back; he looked right through them and saw their hearts of stone.
And it broke Jesus’ heart because he loved these hard-hearted people (go figure) and he grieved their smallness.
It also made him angry because he loved this inconsequential man with the withered up hand – the withered up life. The man who was being used like a pawn in a petty game of power.
So Jesus made his choice; he made his choice for life and love. Jesus said to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” And he did. And the man became whole.
This brazen action for compassion made the leaders hate Jesus even more and now they were absolutely determined to bring him down. So they turned away from Jesus, turned away from their own wholeness and healing. They made alliances with their own worst enemies in order to destroy him.
And they never knew they were destroying themselves in the process.
Biblical descriptions about the wrath of God abound throughout Scripture. Sometimes we hear that phrase, I think, and it makes us comfortable because we imagine that wrath directed at us.
We make a mistake and God must be angry.
We do something stupid and God must hate us.
We get this tendency honestly. Our traditional Western theology sets us up for this kind of thinking.
When I was in seminary, I wrote papers on Martin Luther and John Calvin – famous and influential theologians from the 1500’s. They both were really big on emphasizing God’s wrath, God’s anger because of human sinfulness.
“God loved us even as God hated us…,” one said.
“No description can deal adequately with the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked…,” another insisted.
The Reformers thought this way in order to emphasize the enormity of our estrangement from God and the immensity of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. They wanted us to see ourselves and our situation honestly so that we can truly appreciate the salvation, the healing and the wholeness God has accomplished on our behalf.
But often we misunderstand the Reformers; we tend to take the guilt upon ourselves and leave off the grace.
We may actually worry that God is out to get us.
No! God is for us.
But – Yes – God IS against anything that is at work within us or around us to destroy and diminish this good creation.
Here is where the righteous anger comes in.
Righteous anger is God’s wrath for the creeping death that so easily deludes, diminishes and damages us humans.
God would heal that in us. God would destroy that which destroys the beloved and purge Creation of these thorns and thistles. God would restore Creation to wholeness and shalom.
But here in the world we currently inhabit, we look around and see brokenness everywhere: self-righteousness, hubris, deception, apathy.
This word “apathy” means “lack of passion.”
Apathy is exactly the opposite of what Jesus experienced when he encountered the man with the withered hand. Instead of apathy, Jesus felt a deep pathos. Profound sympathy and keen empathy.
And apathy is the opposite of what he experienced with he encountered the leaders’ hardness of heart. The word “anger” can also mean “passion.” He was passionate against the leaders’ refusal to love.
Lack of love always sparks God’s wrath.
We will read the prophet Zechariah within the next few weeks. Here is another prophetic challenge to hardness of heart.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor…
But they refused to listen; they turned a stubborn shoulder, they stopped their ears…They made their hearts [hard] … Therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah’s proclamation wasn’t just a judgment on the religious leaders. In Israel, the political leaders were expected to be deeply religious. So this indictment of the politics of their day makes me ponder the politics of our own time. How often do we see policies coming from Washington that demonstrate:
True, just and equitable judgment?
Kindness and mercy to all?
Compassion and justice for the “least of these” : widows, orphans, immigrants, poor?
Why can’t our political leaders realize they are responsible to care for and care about our people who live on the fringes? Who continually live one crisis or one paycheck away from disaster?
And why can’t the church hold our political leaders accountable to this kind of compassionate servant leadership?
Such a society requires soft hearts. And make no mistake: tender hearts will break.
The passion and compassion Christ shows for those who are hurting, those who live on the fringes…
The passion and compassion God shows for those who are oppressed and neglected…
This divine character can become the source of our passion and shape compassion within us as well.
Sometimes a little righteous anger is good for us.