s079g99 St James 25/7/99 Somerton Park
"The ten ... were angry with the two brothers." (Matthew 20:24).
I decided to focus today on the anger expressed in the gospel accounts, for this particular passage gives us a clue as to how people reacted to Jesus life and ministry. It is also instructive to see if the Bible tells us of Jesus' anger and the reasons behind God's anger.
Our gospel reading is a very human story. Every mother wants the best for her children, and will go to some lengths to bring the best about for them. So these boys' mother comes to Jesus and kneels before him. Such an approach signified a good deal of trust and commitment on the part of the woman, and after all she didn't want to ask anything for herself. A commendable attitude of abasement. The mother could well be taken as a paragon of piety, faith and selflessness.
It is also interesting to ponder why this woman thought Jesus was able to do as she requested. I emphasise this because this shows how much "faith" she had in Jesus. Do we not think that Jesus primary purpose is to show us the ways to the best seats in heaven - if not for ourselves, for those we love?
Interestingly Jesus takes it all in his stride, the request doesn't faze him and he doesn't get angry. As he experienced humanity in all it's rich diversity, it was not the first time he had seen people acting, that they or others they valued were promoted. It is the other disciples, totally misunderstanding the response Jesus gave to the mother and the boys, who get angry. This alerts me to how frequently people around Jesus got angry, and I want to spend some time looking at this.
We are told that King Herod got angry when he realised that the Wise Men avoided returning to his court (Mt 2.16). The chief priests and the scribes were indignant that Jesus healed the blind and the lame in the Temple (Mt 21.15). The disciples were indignant that the woman wasted the ointment anointing Jesus (Mt 26.8 &//'s). Jesus perceives that the religious authorities were angry that he healed on the Sabbath (Jn 7.23).
Therefore most anger is expressed between people rather than by God against humanity in general or towards individuals in particular.
And the parables reflect a similar story. So Matthew tells of Jesus' words against being angry with one's brother (5.22), and Luke gives us the picture of the elder son being angry that his prodigal father was accepting his younger brother back into the family so readily and warmly (15.28).
Two parables however express anger by the king of the story, and they are both very instructive. The first is the parable of the unmerciful servant who refused to forgive his debtor after being forgiven all his debts by the king previously (Mt 18.34), and the other the anger of the host that the invited guests did not come to his feast (Mt 22.7 & Lk). I shall return to these a little later.
There is only one place where Jesus is said to have gotten angry, and that is before the healing of the man with the withered hand, when we are told he was angry at the hardness of heart of the religious authorities (Mk 3.5).
None of the accounts tell us that Jesus was angry when he cleansed the Temple. John alone quotes the scripture (Ps 69.9): "his disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." (John 2:17). The word in Greek is actually the same as in English: "Zelos" from which we get "jealous" also. Anger on the other hand is a different word and emotion. But I note that this does not imply that Jesus was, at the time, acting out of jealousy for the Father; it is merely an explanation of, and justification for, Jesus' actions.
So the rather surprising result of all this is that we don't really have a gospel parallel of God's anger towards sinful humanity at all. How often are we told of the wrath of God being the other side of God's love? I don't find the wrath of God against the "ungodly" expressed at all in the gospels. And I have sometimes heard that the cross and resurrection of Jesus somehow appeased the wrath of God. This is a concept I find quite alien. I do not find it expressed by Jesus - because nowhere do I find Jesus saying that God is angry. Therefore God doesn't need to be appeased.
By far the majority of cases where anger is expressed, we find it is one human being toward another. God certainly gets angry when we aren't forgiving towards others. We don't need to Cross and resurrection to appease God in this case - God wants us to be more forgiving.
But here we need also to be careful, for God's anger is occasioned by the refusal to forgive after having already been forgiven. The parable is told AGAINST "CHRISTIANS" who (of all people) surely ought to know the extent of God's forgiveness, that we reflect that in our daily lives. The parable says nothing what so ever about people who do not know the gospel of forgiveness and therefore (hardly surprisingly) are still in "survival of the fittest" mode. As I said before, the other time when God gets angry is when we refuse the divine invitation to God's feast. Again this is not spoken against those who know not the king - the people who refused were the ones who knew beforehand the immanent feast. As "CHRISTIANS" we surely know the king and the likelihood of the immanent feast. But the people who, in the end, share in the feast are those who didn't know the king, the likelihood of a feast, let alone had any of them any expectation of being invited.
Again we find a repetition of the same theme that has occupied us for the last two Sundays - that scripture is directed towards the religious authorities - us. It is not directed towards the mythical "ungodly" out there - that if only they would "hear" they would come and join us.
For James and John, in collusion with their mother, wanted to be, or become, religious authorities. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to become religious authorities, provided that the authority is used to magnify others - not to exclude others. So again, the purpose of scripture is to enable the religious authorities to exercise their authority appropriately. Scripture is directed towards us - that we might be forgiving, knowing how much we ourselves have been forgiven - and that we might not make light of the invitation of the King, when it comes to us to join the feast of the kingdom.
Today is the feast day of St James. Today is a saints day. We can celebrate St James as a wonderful person, though in actuality he is noted rather more for what happened to him, rather than what he did of his own volition. He was one of the privileged inner circle of disciples who was with Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration and in Gethsemane, and was the first of the twelve to be martyred, being beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 AD, described in Acts 12.2. Perhaps it is because of this paucity of actions, he was reputed to have preached in Spain before his martyrdom; and his body was said to have been translated to Santiago de Compostela which became a centre of opposition against the Moslem rulers and a centre for pilgrims from all over the world.
But focussing on this aspect of James, we are ever brought back to the gospel imperative that Jesus existed for others, and we are called to exist for others - just as they are - even those of differing faiths - such as the Moslems.
The anger of the ten towards James and John should also alert us to the possibility that much of what passes for religious activity is really no different from political in-fighting. That we dignify our own arguments with reference to the Almighty has been the habit of countless people down the ages and of all religious persuasions. The paradigm is no different from sectarian disputes which occur with monotonous regularity, and even if our arguments don't come to blows or to the use of weapons of war, that is no sure sign that others are not hurt and alienated. And where is the good news when others are hurt or alienated? And when we express our anger, we can be sure that others will be hurt, for that is precisely our intention.
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