One day at church a painting of Jesus caught my attention. It was the typical painting of Christ. He had long brown hair and was in some type of off-white tunic and was glancing upward. This painting got me thinking about my understanding of Jesus when I was a child. How was he portrayed? After reflecting on much of my childhood and speaking with several family members, this is what I came up with…
The Jesus I grew up with had blue eyes. He spoke in gentle tones, and he lived an ethereal life. He was bland, sweet, non-confrontational., He was a conformist, a civic leader concerned about education, the arts, and good manners.
The Jesus I learned about in Sunday School wanted everyone to be nice to one another. He wanted us to brush our teeth twice daily, say “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’am,” and to study hard in school.
The Jesus I knew loved America and all things about her.
He was patriotic, heroic, reserved, a civic leader, and a philanthropist. He lived the perfect story – born into poverty, rising to great success to become the founder of the church through his organizational and motivational abilities.
I should say that no one ever really gave this biography of Jesus, but it was the picture that emerged from the tiny tidbits assembled from teachings heard across my childhood years.
In my mind’s eye, he stood in the fields, looked heavenward, and made genteel pronouncements about heaven, good people, and hope.
I never heard about the Jesus who mocked the government, called the religious leaders a “brood of vipers” and whitewashed tombs, who disrespected his family by publicly disowning them. If we ever learned about Jesus picking up a whip and driving out the money changers in the temple, I don’t remember it. My Jesus – NOTE THE PRONOUN – my Jesus wasn’t like that.
He was more of a teddy bear, completely domesticated and relatively harmless.
My Jesus is completely different from the Jesus I read about in this passage from John. To be sure there are parts of Jesus that are amazingly pastoral. There is the tender Jesus who speaks the beatitudes – though these are some of the most revolutionary statements ever made. There is the sweet Jesus who welcomed children into his arms, but there are other parts of Jesus, too.
The Jesus I read about in scripture got mad at times. At times he was white hot angry as in the scripture passage for today, and in other places he was sarcastic. In some places he was quietly angry with piercing words directed at those in authority. In other times Jesus was passive, as when the soldiers came to arrest him.
Jesus was angry with the Pharisees for their mistreatment of the masses. They heaped upon the common folks burdens that were difficult to bear, and then conspired to make bearing them almost impossible. In the scripture today we learn about his displeasure with those who turned the beautiful tradition of the annual pilgrimage to the temple into a tourist trap for the vulnerable. When the poor brought their animals to sacrifice, the religious leaders deemed their animals unworthy of the deity. They insisted that they purchase appropriate animals – unblemished one--from them for a high price. The pilgrimage became another way for the Pharisees to press down on the people.
Jesus was angry with those who sought to create stumbling blocks to God and assumed a false piety. He gently dispelled the mob who gathered to stone a woman caught in adultery.
Jesus could be angry, piercingly insightful, sharp-witted, and a harsh critic.
And yet he did not get angry when Judas betrayed him. He dined with him, then told him to do what he needed to do.
When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter leapt to his feet and cut off the ear of a soldier, but Jesus healed him.
Jesus was angry about the hurt caused to others, about societal injustice, but he seemed unaffected by personal slights.
The Jesus I Never Knew was angered by pettiness parading as holiness. The Pharisees believed in holiness, but their definition of holiness was about fulfilling minute details of the law. Their pursuit of holiness was not about empowering people or respecting life.
Often our pursuit of holiness is equally as ridiculous. We are obsessed with the trivial and oblivious to the colossal, or as Jesus said, “We strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”
We care more about what we are being served for lunch than about the fellowship we might find while eating a dried out piece of meatloaf. We have a tendency to worry more about room draw than being thankful we have a roof over our heads.
There is a temptation to major in the minors because the minors are easily fixed. It is much easier to worry about the food we are being served than to think about world hunger. It is easier to fight for a bigger room or an apartment than to build houses for the homeless.
It was easier for the Pharisees to define labor on the Sabbath than to lead people toward devotion of God.
Jesus called us to a higher holiness. Jesus said the greatest teaching was to love the Lord your God with heart and mind and soul and strength.
Jesus got angry about oppression, injustice, about hatred, about prejudice. He cared very little about the outward appearances that we claim make us holy. He told the Pharisee to clean the inside of the cup, and then the outside would be clean. Purify the heart and soul, and our actions will be transformed.
Jesus got mad about all the right things.
Set aside petty anger about you and your ego.
Set aside your mindless rules that serve only to self-aggrandize.
Set aside your anger about control and the things of this world that do not matter.
And raise your righteous indignation, your anger, as Jesus would, toward those things in our culture that
damage the creation
exploit the ignorant
harm the oppressed
ignore the plight of the vulnerable.
Set aside the devotion to cultural practices that we elevate to divine mandate.
And let’s hold one another accountable in our lives, in our church meetings, in our gatherings, in our life together. When we are angry about the irrelevant, let’s hold one another accountable and focus on
Jessica Etheridge, Seminary Deacon