Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
When I first read these passages, I wonder what do I do with my anger? In fact, what is the proper place for anger in our lives? Today we seem to be angry all the time. The Republicans are angry with the Democrats and the Democrats are angry with the Republicans. The Left is angry with the Right and the Right is angry with the Left. But this is all normal.
However, this week I saw real righteous anger. I saw it in the words and deeds of the students who were being shot and killed in yet another school shooting. We need to realize that this anger is justified. This anger is not against the second amendment of the constitution but what has been caused by the mishandling and greed with which some people use the amendment for their own greed and political advantages. There is no excuse for saying we will accept the slaughter of our own children. I can see Jesus being angry at this. Jesus seems to be calling us out to be angry at the murder of children but also angry at a society that abandons the mentally ill and abandons its responsibilities other than a profit and loss statement. We need to be better parents and a better society. I wonder if Jesus would have felt the same way as some of those angry students showed their disappointment with the political leaders who were elected to protect them.
Although the story of the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus is found in all four gospels, it is placed near the beginning of John's gospel but near the end of the Synoptics as part of our Lord's passion. Another difference is that John places the event during the first of three Passovers he mentions, whereas the Synoptics situate it during the only Passover they mention when Christ was crucified. These are not contradictions but complementary accounts by the evangelists. Their accounts were motivated by a different understanding and theology rather than by a precise chronology or geography. William Barclay comments: "He (John) was not interested to tell men when Jesus cleansed the Temple; he was supremely interested in telling men that Jesus did cleanse the Temple, ...." (William Barclay, The Gospel of John Vol. 1, [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956], p. 94).
There are several scenes in the gospels when Jesus showed feelings of being angry or upset. Before Jesus cured a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, "he looked around at the Pharisees with anger, for he was deeply grieved that they had closed their minds against him." (Mk 3:5) Another example is when Jesus was annoyed with Peter and said, "Get out of my sight, you Satan!" (Mt 16:23) The most vivid evidence of Jesus' anger, however, is in John's description of Jesus cleansing the Temple. (Jn 2:13-22) Jesus is not just somewhat angry in this scene—he is white-hot with anger! These episodes underscore the reality of our Lord's humanity.
William Barclay goes into great detail about the historical, religious and political circumstances of the Passover in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus in order to understand why he became so enraged. Every Jew over nineteen years of ages had to pay a Temple tax in Jewish currency only, because foreign coins were considered unclean. The tax amounted to about two days' wages. Since pilgrims came with foreign coins from all over the world for the Passover, the money changers were no doubt charging exorbitant rates of exchange. In addition, there were merchants in the Temple selling oxen, sheep and doves to the pilgrims since it was customary to make a thanksgiving sacrifice for a safe journey. The sellers had a monopoly on this trade because animals bought outside the Temple had to pass their inspection before being sacrificed. Here too there must have been some blatant extortion at the expense of poor pilgrims. What was even worse is that these injustices were being done under the guise of religion.
The New Interpreter's Bible comments that the text is not principally about Christ's anger. Instead it is essentially about a messianic action that demonstrates a new understanding of God's presence on earth. Three texts in John's gospel support this interpretation. In John 1:51, Jesus told Philip and Nathanael that they would "see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." This is a new vision of Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28:12, thus indicating that Jesus himself will be the new focus of God's interaction with the world. At the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11), Jesus performs his first sign by changing water into wine. The six stone water jars are symbols for the imperfections of the Jewish law, since seven was the Jewish number for perfection. By changing the water into the best wine, Jesus shows that he came to do away with the imperfections of the law and replace them with the new and abundant wine of his grace. In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that the day is coming when people will worship God neither on Mount Gerizim, nor on Mount Zion, but in spirit and truth. In other words, old rivalries and controversies about which place is more sacred are now irrelevant. Because the messiah is now here, true seekers of God can now find him anywhere.
Within the framework of these three texts, the Jews' question, "What sign can you show us authorizing you to do these things?" is pivotal to understanding John 2:13-22. The power structure that controlled the ritual system of the Temple had substituted its own rules and practices for authentic worship and sacrifice. Christ comes in as an outsider to challenge not only the abuses that were undermining the Jewish religious system, but also the very authority of the institution itself. Christ not only refocuses our idea of God but totally re-frames the whole relationship. Christ explains his actions by pointing to his future death and resurrection—these will bear witness to the power of God working in the world through him. It demonstrates and clearly notes a whole new paradigm.
The dominant motif in John 2:13-22 is to preview Jesus as the new focus/understanding of God's presence on earth instead of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus has angrily swept away the old way of thinking and freed us up with a new understanding that is not limited by human manipulation.
If you haven’t noticed, America is angry. Citizens are clamoring for action and hurling accusations and jeering at their opponents and holding grudges and threatening one another. Professing Christians in our country are apparently angry, too. The news is rife with election year stories about angry evangelicals who are determined to set America back on track. How often do we see true righteous anger being directed towards our so called political leaders for their lack of action or their avoidance of helping us solve everything from School Shootings to Poverty?
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
A lot of people like to justify their anger by calling it “righteous.” They’ll point to Jesus’ flipping tables in the Temple. Though it’s no surprise at all, no one in the media—much less those of us involved in serious dialogue about Christ—are talking very much about this exemplary, righteous anger Jesus shows us in the Bible. We might use the phrase, but we often have little idea about what it actually means.
Until I read the Bible twice solely for the purpose of searching for what it says about godly human anger, I never even noticed that the Scriptures record Jesus’ being angry at least 15 times in the Gospel narratives. I was raised to believe that all human anger is sinful. What I learned firsthand though conducting research for my doctoral dissertation is that the Holy Spirit of God commands us (II Timothy 3:16-17) as believers to put on the “new self” and “be angry” with a different kind of anger (Ephesians 4:24-26).
Anger does have a place in the Christian’s “new” life.
Not the nasty kind of anger that gets smeared around when protesters write hate mail. Not the political kind of anger that produces angry Christians who demonize those on the other side of the isle. Not the ugly kind of anger that causes church splits. But a radically different anger that’s beautiful and loving because it ushers in the healing grace of God.
Most of us believe that Jesus was humble (Matthew 11:29), yet we have never paused to realize that humble Jesus showed what it looks like to be angry in a way that pleases God. Granted, the book of James says that “the anger of man” does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:20), but the very same passage instructs us to be “slow to anger” (James 1:19). Obviously, being slow to anger suggests that there is an anger we should have. God never tells us to be slow to commit adultery or be slow to enjoy our favorite sins. But we are, as already mentioned, commanded to “be angry,” after we put on the “new self.” (Ephesians 4:24, 26).
Jesus’ yoke is easy because it is a yoke of grace. It is not a yoke of earning God’s favor. The yoke of true repentance has nothing to do with proving ourselves to God. Instead, it has everything to do with surrendering ourselves to God and being vulnerable enough to let God make us new.
The surprise of Jesus’ anger is that it frees us. It delivers us from evil. It enables us to let go of “the sin which so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1). Jesus’ anger—godly anger—compels to hate our own sin. “Abhor what is evil,” is a New Testament commandment that too often is ignored and disobeyed (Romans 12:9).
How many of us Christ followers are helping each other hate our own sin? How many of us are bold enough to obey the commandment in Hebrews to “stimulate” each other to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)?
In our increasingly angry culture, it’s time for a critical mass of Christ followers to start imitating Jesus in His anger. Granted, it is risky for us to attempt to do this. But it is riskier to stand by passively and lazily watch our sin multiply collectively like cancer. The Body of Christ in America is not to be spiritually cancer-ridden. We are to be salt. Jesus said that we are salt (Matthew 5:13). Salt preserves. Salt heals. Salt brings out the flavor of God’s delicious savory love. But when we, the salt, become tasteless, we lose our healing power and make things worse.
We have to remember that Jesus’ godly anger was never aimed at a prostitute or a tax collector or a political candidate. He targeted His anger at religious phonies who took God’s name in vain by using it to hide their wicked deeds. Jesus’ anger also burned against His very closest followers who willfully hardened their hearts instead of humbling themselves and taking Him at His word (Mark 16:14). Jesus’ anger is healing, not because it wags judgmental fingers at unbelievers, but because it re-salts the Church so that we can salt the earth. (https://relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/what-righteous-anger-looks)
I grew up believing anger was a "bad" emotion. So, I've needed several years of Christian counseling even to admit I get angry, much less to learn I can express those feelings righteously! Thankfully, God's Word sets clear parameters for getting peeved.
What does God say about this? The bad news for hotheads is that Scripture contains many more verses warning believers against blowing their cool than verses advocating such behavior. The writer of Proverbs connects anger with foolishness: "Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults" (Proverbs 12:16, NCV). And the apostle Paul recommends letting our heavenly Father fight our battles: "My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: 'I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19, NCV).
How does this affect me? As Christ-followers, we're totally appropriate getting upset over sin, too. Evils such as abuse, racism, pornography, and child sex trafficking should incense us. But no matter how reprehensible the people or activities we're condemning, we still aren't justified to sin in our responses: "When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day" (Ephesians 4:26, NCV). Those of us with confrontational personalities might want to ask ourselves the question, Is my motive to be right or to be righteous? before ripping into the offending parties.
Such considerations also help us be pokey in getting peeved: "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19–20, ESV). Instead of replying immediately, simply counting to ten before reacting usually leads to much better results in a contentious situation.
Then after we take offense, we should take redemptive action. Christians must get involved with organizations working to free children from slavery and volunteer at shelters working to protect battered women. We must lead the charge against hatred and oppression and cruelty! Ultimately, if our outrage results in restoring people into loving, healing relationships with Jesus, it's righteous anger. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/bible-answers/theology/righteousanger.html)
"Righteous" means acting in accord with divine or moral law or free from guilt or sin. It may also refer to a morally right or justifiable decision or action or to an action which arises from an outraged sense of justice or morality. (See third paragraph below) "Indignation" is anger aroused by something unjust, mean, or unworthy. The Standard Dictionary describes indignation as a "feeling involving anger mingled with contempt or disgust".
In McCosh's book Motive Powers, he notes that "We may be angry and sin not; but this disposition may become sinful, and this in the highest degree. It is so when it is excessive, when it is rage, and makes us lose control of ourselves. It is so, and may become a vice, when it leads us to wish evil to those who have offended us. It is resentment when it prompts us to meet and repay evil by evil. It is vengeance when it impels us to crush those who have injured us. It is vindictiveness when it is seeking out ingeniously and laboriously means and instruments to give pain to those who have thwarted us. Already sin has entered."
St. Thomas Aquinas, in the question on anger of his Summa Theologiae, quotes the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, "he that is angry without cause, shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked," and concludes saying that "to be angry is therefore not always an evil."
One of the now things we are seeing is the righteous anger of the Parkland Shooting’s Teen Survivors. Students have mourned and rallied the public after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that left 17 dead.
Something was different about the mass shooting this week in Parkland, Florida, in which 14 students and three adults were killed.
It was not only the death toll. The mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High became the deadliest high-school shooting in American history (edging out Columbine, which killed 13 in 1999).
What made Parkland different were the people who stepped forward to describe it. High-school students—the survivors of the calamity themselves—became the voice of the tragedy. Tweets that were widely reported as coming from the students expressed grief for the victims, pushed against false reports, and demanded accountability.
On television, on social media, they were unignorably. Many of them called for legislation to address the violence.
“We are children. You guys are the adults. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done,” David Hogg, a student who survived the killing, told CNN.
It all seems like a new phenomenon. After Sandy Hook, the victims’ parents became their de facto advocates, a role they still hold. And in the wake of a mass shootings that targets adults, usually victims’ husbands, wives, parents, or adult children speak for them. But this is the largest high-school shooting in the social-media age—so it centers on adolescents, who can discuss and understand the tragedy as adults but who are as blameless for it as children.
But media savvy alone doesn’t explain what the kids have done. Hogg, the Douglas student who talked to CNN, is also a student journalist. With keen reportorial instinct, he interviewed his fellow students while the shooting was taking place—in a closet, in a classroom, while the school remained on lockdown. In the brief video he captured, a female student whose name was not given appeared to see the shooting as a political event—even before it ended.
“I don’t really think there’s anything new to say, but there shouldn’t have to be,” she told Hogg. “Because if you looked around this closet and saw everyone just hiding together, you would know that this shouldn’t be happening anymore, and that it doesn’t deserve to happen to anyone.”
This is what astonished and confronted me while watching Stoneman Douglas High’s speakers for the dead. Even as the shooting was happening, many of them talked about it not as an inexplicable catastrophe, not as an unforeseeable tragedy, but as something that just happens. A car crash, not an earthquake. It was something they had trained for, something they had perhaps visualized in their head once or twice before. And since it was almost normal, it was preventable—and thus political.
Those students understand that they live in a country that they have very little power to change—a country where, several times a year, a school for children becomes a charnel house. So, when that hideous transformation struck their school, they already knew what they wanted to do. That girl in the closet, talking to her classmate, anticipated the next several days of talking points without knowing whether she would get to see those days at all. These assorted Florida teenagers knew the contours of the gun debate so well that they were rebutting NRA talking points just after emerging from their safe zones. Now, a few days later, their insistence on their own authority has gummed up the works of the otherwise clichéd national debate. Their calls for action may not lead to any imminent change in policy. But they have given the country a striking symbol of what—and who—we’re really talking about when we have these debates. And they will not be the last victims to face a loaded assault rifle and think: This is preventable. I must politicize this. (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/parkland-shooting-teen-survivor-tweets-righteous-anger/553634/) We certainly can see this as righteous anger. If the movie The Jury was correct there are people doing this for profit. There need to be some common sense safe guards, or will we see more and more righteous anger.
Some activities are appropriate in God's house and others are not. A Virginia couple was arrested last August when they engaged in sex in a vestibule of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in the middle of the day as worshipers were participating in a service. The two were charged with obscenity in the third degree and public lewdness. The man and woman were participating in a radio stunt as part of WNEW's afternoon talk program, "Opie and Anthony." As part of that show, six couples were given a list of 54 different high-risk locations in the city where they were encouraged to have sex, including St. Patrick's Cathedral and nearby Rockefeller Center. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York called the incident "disgusting." As a result of the public furor, the two radio show hosts were fired, and authorities were reviewing the radio station's license.
Might it be helpful in every church to occasionally do the kind of housecleaning that Jesus did? Might it be helpful to eliminate the aspects of our church life that really don't measure up to what should be taking place? Jack Welch, the former head of the General Electric Corporation, was a strong advocate of regular evaluation. His policy was to evaluate employees every year and to terminate those who performed in the bottom 10%. He believed the way to achieve excellence is by eliminating unacceptable performance.
Business guru Peter Drucker encourages executives to ask themselves, "If you weren't already in this business, would you enter it today?" If the answer is no, he asks, "What are you going to do about it?" What "businesses" are our churches in that they shouldn't be? What are we going to do about it?
Being angry and confrontational is difficult for many people. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta suggest that is so for good reason. Scientists at the university have concluded that people's brains experience a happier sensation when they treat other people nicely. Dr. Gregory Berns states, "When people cooperate together, it activates parts of their brains that are activated by other types of rewards.... It's nice the brain seems at least to be wired to associate a reward for cooperation—it could have been the other way around. It's exactly this type of thing that I think keeps society together."
In a way, Jesus saw the traders in the temple as enemies, people he had no desire to get friendly with. Apparently a 21-year-old in Yacolt, Washington, wasn't too skilled at identifying enemies. To show off for his friends, he bragged that he was able to kiss a rattlesnake. He successfully kissed the snake one time. But during his second try, the snake bit him and he nearly died.
There is much in American society that should cause people to engage in righteous anger. Murder, rape, and every other violent criminal act, except aggravated assault, rose during 2001, the most recent year for which current, complete information is available. The 15,980 murders represented a 2.5% increase over the previous year. Robberies rose 3.7%. The total number of crimes increased by 2.1%, the first year to year increase since 1991. The good news in all this, if there is any, is that the total number of crimes is still down 10% when compared to 1997.
An enormous amount of righteous anger was exhibited in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Many Americans, though, might be surprised by this fact: The deadliest day in American history was not September 11. Rather it was September 17, 1862. On that day around 6400 soldiers perished during the Battle of Antietem, the bloodiest fight of the whole Civil War. The total number who died during that one day was more than all who died in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and all the nineteenth century Indian conflicts combined. September 17, 1862, was a day when countrymen killed fellow countrymen, when, in many cases, fellow Christians slaughtered fellow Christians.
Christians should be moved to righteous anger over the senseless violence in our society. Last summer a 13-year-old Brooklyn boy was found beaten to death and stuffed in a closet as a result of a dispute over one dollar. An 18-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman were charged with his murder and kidnaping. The incident occurred at a local bodega when the man and woman mistakenly thought that the boy had taken the dollar they had put on the counter to pay for some cigarettes.
Are we, as Christians, prepared to unleash our anger if necessary? When the Church of England found that one out of every eight of their parish clergy have been assaulted, they began to offer martial arts instruction for all their vicars. In England, being a parish priest is more dangerous than working as a probation officer.
The leaders in the temple were supposed to be keeping an eye on the people. But as Jesus found out, who was keeping on eye on the leaders? In like manner, zookeepers are supposed to keep watch of their animals. But who keeps watch of the zookeepers? Two zookeepers in Recklinghausen, a small town in northeastern Germany, were suspended and put under police investigation last October. The workers at the zoo, which is popular with small children, had slaughtered and barbecued five Tibetan mountain chickens and two Cameroonian sheep.
There's more than one way to drive people off. The Boston transit police were recently trying to figure out how to get rid of the large number of aggressive teenagers who were hanging around city subway stations. They had tried arresting the youth, but they found that did not eliminate the problem. They were still having two or three fights a day in the subway. So, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority pursued a different course of action. They began piping in music from the likes of George Gershwin and John Philip Sousa. The result was immediate—the number of loitering young people shrunk almost at once.
Peter Gomes of Harvard University contends that in the aftermath of the Civil War, whites in the South believed that a just God would visit vengeance upon them by allowing the former slaves to rise up violently against them. Gomes writes: "People of the white Christian South turned the notion of justice and retribution on its head and exacted it first before it could be exacted upon them, and once they had done it, they could not stop: there was no turning back; each atrocity became the justification for the next one" (Peter Gomes, The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need [New York: Harper Collins, 2002], p. 318).
Dealing with the wrongs in society can be a draining task. Media censors in New Zealand are each given about $500 per year to use for piano lessons, exercise classes, or anything else that will help them get rid of the "psychological pollution" they endure as a result of their work. The twelve staff who are employed in New Zealand's Office of Film and Literature Classification are entitled to the funds. Their work involves classifying publications—including films, videos, music, books, magazines, and computer games—that may need to be restricted or banned. During 2001, the office reviewed 1224 publications, of which 201 were ultimately deemed to be objection able. In addition to the money, the employees are also entitled to eight counseling sessions each year.
There was a mental institution in India that had a rather unusual way of deciding whether the patients were well enough to return to their homes. They would take a patient to a water spigot, place a large pail of water under the faucet, and fill the pail with water. Then, leaving the water running, they would give the patient a spoon and instruct them, "Please empty the pail." If the person attempted to empty the bucket by scooping the water out with the spoon without turning the water off, they concluded the person was in need of further treatment. When Jesus went into the temple and faced off against the religious authorities, he was attempting to shut off the spigot. Jesus realized that the only way to correct the religious errors among the masses was first to correct the religious errors at the source, among the leaders.
"We are not sent to build cathedrals, however beautiful, or to run parish fairs, however productive to the institutional budget. We are sent to proclaim the foolishness of God...." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], p. 64).
"What killed Jesus was not irreligion, but religion itself; not lawlessness, but precisely the Law; not anarchy, but the upholders of order" (Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium [New York: Doubleday, 1998], p. 83).
"The man who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and in the right way and at the right time and for the right length of time, is commended" (Aristotle).
"Moral indignation is in most cases 2 percent moral, 48 percent indignation, and 50 percent envy" (Italian film director Vittorio De Sica).
"Wrongdoing can only be avoided if those who are not wronged feel the same indignation at it as those who are" (Solon).
One of the reasons many churches have trouble dealing with conflict is that they have the notion that there should not be conflict in churches. Somehow some church folk expect that part of being a Christian is always being nice to everyone. A former mainline denominational official once said that there are times people in churches who are acting in ways that are negative and destructive need to be told that what they are doing is wrong despite the fact that this will not be a nice conversation. Jesus never commanded us to be nice, and he himself was not nice more than once in his life.
There is an ancient parable, which tells off a king suffering from a painful ailment. His wise men told him that the only cure was for him to find a contented man, get his shirt and wear it night and day. So messengers were sent throughout the King's realm in search of the contented man. Months passed, and the messengers returned without a shirt. "Did you find a contented man?" "Yes, O King." "Why did you not bring me his shirt?" "Master, the man has no shirt."
Archbishop Oscar Romero grows very angry as the right-wing death squads continue to murder so many priests and peasants in El Salvador. In the movie Romero he addresses the people over the diocesan radio program, denouncing the government for supporting the death squads. In his address he says two things that undoubtedly lead to his murder. (In fact, the movie makes this clear. As we hear him speak we see a goon preparing the gun that he will use to murder the courageous man.) First, the Archbishop speaks directly to soldiers, telling, no, ordering, them not to obey the unjust commands of their superiors to kill peasants. Second, he appeals to the President of the United Sates to stop sending money and guns to the government of El Salvador. He virtually accuses the United States of aiding and abetting the murders and massacres of the Salvadoran poor. This act of defiance from the once mild-mannered priest is equivalent to Jesus' challenge to the authority of his enemies by marching into the Jerusalem temple and driving out those who were polluting it. Like the El Salvadoran government, the temple leaders were challenged at the very basis of their power. They had either to repent and change their ways or get rid of the challenger. (This is why most Scripture scholars believe that John's placing the temple cleansing at the beginning, rather than at the end of Jesus' ministry, is based on his theology, and not the chronology of events. John sets forth three great Messianic events at the very beginning of his theological account—John the Baptist's great declaration at the Jordan concerning Jesus as the Lamb of God; Jesus' power to transform the water at the Cana wedding; and his superior authority over his enemies at the temple.)
The movie Good Will Hunting is a drama about a rebellious Boston "Southie" who enjoys hanging out with his rowdy buddies, but who is also gifted with a photographic memory and mathematical genius. On the one hand, Will (Matt Damon) likes to hit the bars with his gang to bully guys from other neighborhoods. On the other hand, he relishes scanning and remembering library volumes, and solve with ease complex mathematical problems that even Nobel laureates at MIT cannot solve.
In one scene, Will and his closest friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) visit a bar, and Chuckie tries to get acquainted with a couple of girls from Harvard. When Chuckie pretends to remember seeing Skyler (Minnie Driver) in a history class, a smug graduate student interrupts their conversation to ridicule Chuckie. The graduate student sarcastically remarks that he too remembers that course — "It was between recess and lunch!" Skyler objects to the intrusion, but the graduate student says that he's just having some fun. He then mockingly tells Chuckie that he was hoping to gain some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the south: "My contention is that prior to the Revolutionary War," the grad student says, "the economic modality (especially in the southern colonies) could be most aptly be characterized as agrarian pre-capitalism…"
The more Will Hunting observes the graduate student humiliating Chuckie, the more enraged he becomes at this arrogant academic bullying. Will's photographic memory kicks into high gear, and he proceeds to unmask the pretentious vicious game being played to embarrass his best friend. "You're a first-year graduate student," Will begins, "and you just got through reading some historian's theory." Will then barrages the graduate student with his own version of name dropping and sophisticated vocabulary in order to demonstrate that the student is simply regurgitating and plagiarizing what others have written. "Is that your thing?" Will asks. "You come into a bar, read some obscure passage, and then pawn it off as your own ideas just to impress some girls and embarrass my friend?" Maybe this student will start sometime doing his own thinking and discover that he wasted a $150,000 on an education he could have gotten for $1.50 in a public library. To save face, the graduate student says that at least he will have a college degree and take vacations at a ski resort, whereas Will probably will end up serving fries at a drive-through. However, Will has the last word: "Maybe, but at least I won't be unoriginal." Will suggests that they go outside to settle their disagreement (with fists), but the student declines and slips away.
Verbal violence and cutting sarcasm often cause considerable hurt to people. In the Good Will Hunting scene we reviewed, we see a case of Will using "righteous anger" to rescue his hapless friend Chuckie from humiliation and to deflate the pride of the arrogant graduate student.
The current musical-drama Les Miserables has given new life to Victor Hugo's 19th Century literary masterpiece. Hugo was born in 1802 of a conservative but poetry-loving mother and a military father who became a general. Travels with his father during the Napoleonic Wars gave Hugo an appreciation of the beauty of nature but a dread of the horrors of war. Hugo began his prodigious writing while he was still a teenager, and by the time he was 30 he was considered France's greatest living writer. During the turbulent times of post-revolutionary France, Hugo became more and more outspoken on such issues as politics, education, and human rights. He fled into exile in 1851 and did not return until 1870 when he was given a hero's welcome. He died in 1885 at age 83.
Some attribute Hugo's enormous body of poetry and literature to his passion and energy for addressing humanity's great and eternal questions of life and death, joy and sorrow, goodness and evil. On the one hand, it is no secret that Victor Hugo had his share of human weaknesses—he had dalliances with many mistresses, was sometimes egocentric, and could even be mean at times. On the other hand, he was a loving and caring father and grandfather, he had an immense sensitivity for the plight of the poor, and he had extraordinary talent for describing with simplicity and power, fictional characters who had a compelling universal appeal.
Victor Hugo's "righteous anger" sometimes appeared in his writing. In his moving story of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, he questions how society could condemn a man to the galleys for 19 years for such petty theft as stealing bread. Victor Hugo was also "righteously angry" with the Church for catering to the rich and not doing more to help the poor. "I believe in God, I believe in my soul, I believe that we shall be called upon to answer for our deeds," he wrote. "Since all existing religions have failed in their duty to Humanity and God, no priest shall have a part in my funeral. I leave my heart to the dear ones whom I love."
Victor Hugo made his will in 1881 to have 40,000 francs donated to the poor and expressed his wish to be taken to the cemetery in a pauper's hearse. He also wrote in his will: "I am about to close my bodily eyes; but the eyes of my spirit will remain open, more widely open than ever. I refuse the prayers of the churches. I ask a prayer of all human spirits." In fact, his coffin was laid under the Arc of Triumph for an all-night vigil, twelve French poets formed a guard of honor, two million French people followed the hearse, and the funeral procession took six hours to pass. It was the first time that a whole nation rendered to a poet honors usually reserved for sovereigns and military leaders.
Tiger Woods was asked a controversial question last year about whether women be allowed to join the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, home of the Masters tournament. Tiger Woods answered the question in a noncommittal way: "They're entitled to set up their own rules the way they want them." His reply sparked some "righteous anger," especially in the National Council of Women's Organizations. Although golf has become more and more a sport of inclusion, two of the four major golf tournaments in 2002 were at private clubs that did not accept women as members—the clubs at Augusta and at Muirfield in Scotland.
At the end of August, Chairman "Hootie" Johnson announced that Augusta National would drop its corporate sponsors to avoid pressure on them by the National Council of Women's Organizations. Since CBS will still televise the Masters tournament, Dr. Burk remarked that her organization would now discuss the issue with the network. "It will be about whether they want to broadcast an event," she said, "held in a venue that discriminates against half the population, and what kind of statement that makes about CBS as a network."
In this "he-she" gender struggle, which group is on the side of "righteous anger?" Or are both able to claim "righteous anger" as one of the reasons to justify their arguments? Nonetheless, this conflict pales in importance to other "women's rights" issues around the globe that leave no room for ambiguity or argument. Last August, an Islamic high court in northern Nigeria rejected an appeal from a single mother sentenced to be stoned to death for having sex and a child outside of wedlock. Church leaders and Amnesty International had every reason to express their "righteous anger" and voice their strong objections but were powerless to save the woman.
Minette Walters is a British writer of crime fiction. Her book Acid Row is named after a low-income, crime-infested housing development on the outskirts of London. The ghetto is a no-man's land of single mothers, fatherless children, and angry alienated adolescents who rule the streets. Sophie Morrison is a young doctor who comes into this war zone to visit a patient. Unaware that the patient is a pedophile and has a sadistic son, she is taken hostage. Meanwhile, a ten-year-old girl disappears from home, presumably lured away by a child molester. The community learns that a convicted pedophile has been relocated to their neighborhood, and concerned mothers organize a peaceful march.
However, the local teenage ruffians, who are already agitated by drink and drugs, seize the concerned mothers' protest as an opportunity to demonstrate their frustration and anger. The crowd soon becomes a mob, the rowdy teenagers go on a rampage, and the violence escalates out of control. By the time the police quell the riot involving some 2,000 people, three lives are lost and scores are injured.
One reviewer noted that Minette Walters' book is "based on actual incidents of community vigilantism gone haywire," while another critic pointed out that "the pedophile was just an excuse for the boiling resentment of Acid Row's underclass." The book illustrates an important distinction. A person or group of people may have very good reasons to feel "righteous anger" over something, and to have an agenda of grievances or issues they want addressed. However, they must also have very good reasons for the strategies or the means they use to implement their agenda. We must always be guided by the moral principle that "the end does not justify the means." (Minette Walters, Acid Row [Penguin, 2002])
Miroslav Volf, who teaches at Yale Divinity School, wrote an article for the Christian Century (April 10-17, 2002) under the title "More Religion, Less Violence." His reflections resulted from a class he taught using Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans, written shortly after World War I. "Stung by his teachers' facile identifications of Western civilization with the kingdom of God," Volf says, "Barth raged against religion." Barth's critique of religion was honest and forthright in pointing out that religion is not always the "solemn music that accompanies all the noblest human experiences." Unhappily, we see too often "sin celebrating its triumph in religion…. Conflict and distress, sin and death, the devil and hell, make up the reality of religion."
Although some readers might think that Barth overstates his criticisms of religion, yet history and contemporary events provide ample evidence of the frequent conjunction of religion and violence. Many wars that ravaged Europe in the past raged around religious differences and intolerance. In our own day, news headlines frequently report bloody battles and acts of terrorism in Ireland, Serbia, India and the Holy Land—not just because of politics, but also because of religion.
On a deeper level, Miroslav Volf argues that religions run the risk of legitimizing violence when they water down moral content and reduce faith to a cultural phenomenon. Volf claims that what we need "is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion." We must practice our faith in an authentic way, instead of just being "card-carrying Christians." We must be apostles of peace and justice in the world, and not just hear about them in our churches.
In July 2002, some Boston Globe reporters published a book titled Betrayal: Covering the Church Crisis. Their findings were the result of investigations they did from January to May, 2002, on the pedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church. The Globe originally broke the story in January of how the Boston archdiocese had protected Father John Goeghan for more than 20 years by keeping secret his sins and crimes of sexual abuse. Some accused the Globe of an anti-Catholic bias and of irresponsible sensationalizing. However, the Globe reporters' thorough research of priest scandals amassed considerable evidence of a long history of cover-ups, hush money, and ecclesiastical mistakes in dealing with the issue.
Father Andrew Greeley wrote this of Betrayal: "The investigative staff of the Boston Globe has done the Catholic Church an enormous favor….It has revealed to the Catholic laity the ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, and insensitivity of the hierarchy. It has bared a pattern of sinfulness that has been a cancer eating at the church and has forced the bishops to excise it." One can sense the moral outrage and "righteous anger" that Greeley, himself a Catholic priest, feels over the pedophile priest scandal.
R. Scott Appleby, a professor of history at Notre Dame, acknowledges that the authors were "largely successful in their attempt to achieve a balance and analysis of the events that caused the crisis," and in the way they handled the contested issues of celibacy and homosexuality in the priesthood. Nonetheless, Appleby thinks that the journalists "have not been entirely innocent of following their own agenda—one that has little or nothing to do with lingering anti-Catholicism but more to do with pushing a dramatic story." For example, Appleby found the book lacking "a credible account of what Catholics find vital and holy in Catholicism," and why Catholics continue to love and support their parish priests in spite of their pain, anger and embarrassment because of the scandal.
Outrage and anger can only be "righteous" if we keep a sense of proportion. The number of pedophile priests is an extremely small percentage compared to the very large percentage of priests who serve the church with great generosity, fidelity, and integrity. Also, a one-size-fits-all punishment of "zero tolerance" the U.S. Bishops proposed seems unjust and extreme. Some who are accused of sexual abuse are completely innocent. Others are guilty of sin and a lapse of judgment many years ago, but not all are guilty of crime. Lest the media turn the pedophile priest scandal an "anti-Catholic witch hunt," should they not also investigate rabbis and ministers, teachers and coaches, and social workers and therapists who molest children?
With God's grace, "righteous anger" over priestly sexual abuse, as opposed to vindictive anger, can turn out to be a blessing. We should expect positive outcomes in the form of healing and reconciliation for the innocent victims; breaking down the hierarchy's "culture of secrecy" that covered up the crimes; adopting new and effective guidelines for investigating charges of sexual abuse; and improving the way we recruit, screen and train candidates for the priesthood.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Almighty God, You have set Your Son over us as the one true Head of the Church. In all that we do—in our worship, our fellowship, our ministry, and all the other many aspects of our church's life—may we never forget who it is that we serve. Even now in this time of worship, may all of our thoughts and attention be centered upon You, for You alone are deserving of our adoration and praise. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
God of justice, we admit that often we are religious in what we do, yet we are not faithful. There are times when we sing our hymns and say our prayers, but our minds wander as we speak the words. There are times when we make decisions not based on what is best for the up-building of Your kingdom but based on what is best for ourselves. There are times when we hold the right beliefs, yet we fail to embody that faith in our actions. Merciful Lord, forgive the sin that leads us away from You. Draw us back to Yourself, so that we may be the church that You intend us to be. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Faithful Lord, we often take our money and use it to accomplish the things that we want. But we bring our gifts before You this day so that they might accomplish the goals that You want. Receive them as humble signs of our devotion to You. In the name of Christ our Savior we pray. Amen.
Almighty God, as we gather here today, we realize that there are so many ways that we have become less than You intended us to be. By the power of Your Spirit, we pray that You would reach out to us and redirect our lives. Give us a renewed passion to carry forth Your gospel from this place, so that Your praise might be declared not only in this sanctuary, but in all the world. Grant us a fervent desire to study Your Word, so that the teachings of Holy Scripture might saturate our very being. Fill us with deep desire to serve those in need, reaching out to the least and the lost just as Jesus did.
Make us into a church that is worthy of Your name. In the midst of a fearful world, make us a beacon of hope. In the midst of a cruel and vindictive society, make us an instrument of grace and mercy. In the midst of communities that are filled with loneliness and distrust, form us into a fellowship of faith where deep caring binds us together. Give us the boldness to let go of those things that are holding us back from being your true and faithful disciples. Through all our words and actions, may we glorify You here and throughout all the earth. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.