Friday afternoon a year ago, my oldest son and I milled around downtown Charlottesville in the hours before the tiki-torch bearing scare mob descended from the Rotunda, spouting racist nonsense whose ultimate Author I feel compelled by faith to name as Satan.
“Dad, don’t make any jokes about your being Jewish!” I laughed not sure that I should be laughing.
Had we known how the next day would play out, we wouldn’t have laughed.
We saw the empty Emancipation Park with the barricades up festooned in police tape. We saw the omnipresent homeless looking dazed and curious about the stage craft setting up around them. We saw the lonely looking white
men boys we’d later recognize in the Washington Post, their faces illumined by flame and fury.
There’s an elementary school near the park there in Charlottesville. Mostly African American kids. I used to work there in their After School program, M-F, when I was an undergraduate. Summers too.
I thought of Christopher Yates the boy who had no father at home whom I took to Long John Slivers on occasion. Back then, he had no idea there were people in the world who looked like me who hated people like him simply because they looked him.
Loitering in Charlottesville that Friday with my son, who is not white and growing in to an ugly but necessary awareness of that fact, I thought of Christopher.
And I got pi@#$%.
Right after he’s baptized, Jesus goes to Galilee. ‘Galilee’ is Mark’s shorthand way of saying ‘on the other side of the tracks. As soon as he arrives, a leper comes up to Jesus. Gets down on his knees begging. Leprosy assaults your body as your skin rots away. But ‘leprosy also attacks your social network.
It brings you isolation. It makes you unclean. It leaves you socially unacceptable. So not only does leprosy make you sick, it stigmatizes you. Which, if you weren’t already, makes you poor.
And according to the Law, a leper’s ‘uncleanness’ can only be ritually removed by a duly vested priest. This leper obviously knows the rules don’t give Jesus the right to cleanse him. That’s why he gives Jesus an out: “You could declare me clean, if you dare.” And Mark says that ‘moved with anger’ Jesus stretches out his hand and Jesus touches this untouchable leper- touches him before he heals him- and Jesus says: “I do choose. Be made clean!”
And while the leprosy leaves him, Jesus doesn’t say ‘come and follow me’ or ‘your faith has made you well.’
No, Mark says Jesus snorts “with indignation.”
Here’s the money question Mark wants you to puzzle out:
Why is Jesus so angry?
Because this pushy leper didn’t say the magic word?
Because now all anyone will want from him are miracles?
Because this leper is only interested in a cure not carrying a cross?
Why is Jesus so angry?
In order to answer that question, you have to ask another one:
Why does Jesus send this ex-leper to show himself to the priests?
The answer Mark wants you to tease out is that this ex-leper had already gone to the priests and with the same question: ‘Will you declare me clean?’
Jesus is angry. Jesus snorts with indignation. Jesus huffs and puffs because before this leper begged Jesus, he went before the priests.
Just as the Bible instructs.
And they turned him away.
You see, the priests in Jesus’ day charged money for the ritual cleansing. And money, if you were a leper, is something you didn’t have. So not only were lepers marginalized and ostracized, they were victimized too. And that, Mark says, makes for one PO’d Messiah.
What Would Jesus Do?
As often as we ask ourselves that question, ‘Get Torqued Off’ isn’t usually what comes to mind.
Jesus only has 19 verses of actual ministry under his belt here and already he’s righteously mad. And Jesus keeps on getting angry, again and again, in Mark’s Gospel.
When a man with a withered hand approaches Jesus in church and the Pharisees look on in apathy, Jesus gets angry. And when Jesus rides into Jerusalem and sees what’s going on, Jesus gets angry and throws a Temple tantrum. And when Peter brings a sword to protect the Prince of Peace, Jesus gets angry and scolds him.
Martin Luther said that God speaks and God still speaks to us in two words, Law and Gospel. Where the latter offers the unconditional promise of forgiveness, the former primes the pump for that grace by stopping us in our tracks, convicting us of our sin, and compelling us to throw ourselves on God’s mercy. Jesus, who is the One Word of God, offers us the latter word through his body but speaks the first word to us not only in his impossible commandments (lust = adultery) but also his anger.
We tend to think that anger is a bad thing, that it’s something to be stamped out not sought after. Some have even numbered anger a ‘deadly sin.’ But we believe that Jesus was fully human, in him was the full complement of sinless human emotions.
Not only do we believe Jesus was fully human, scripture calls Jesus the 2nd Adam.
Meaning: Jesus wasn’t just truly human; he’s the True Human.
He’s not only fully human; he’s the only human- the only one to ever be as fully alive as God made each of us to be.
Yet Jesus is angry all the time. So anger isn’t always or necessarily a bad thing.
Instead of a flaw in our humanity, anger could be a way for us to become more human, as fully human as Jesus. But how do we know the difference? Between anger as a vice and anger as a virtue?
Scripture speaks of sin as ‘missing the mark.’ That is, sin is when our actions or desires are aimed towards something other than what God intends. When you read straight through the Gospels, you notice how Jesus gets angry…all the time. But what Jesus gets angry at is injustice, oppression, poverty; suffering and stigmatization, abuse and apathy. That’s the kind of anger that hits God’s mark.
As a pastor, I run into people all the time who are convinced either that God is angry at them OR that the god of the Bible is an angry god.
So let me just say it plain:
The love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for us is unconditional.
Because the love between the Father, Son and Spirit is unceasing.
God’s love for us is unchanging because GOD IS UNCHANGING.
We cannot earn God’s love, no matter how hard we try. We cannot lose God’s love, no matter how hard we try. God does not change his mind about us. Because God does not change his mind. Because God does not change.
God IS NOT ANGRY.
God CANNOT EVER BE ANGRY.
Because he’s God.
But Jesus, the True Human Person, the 2nd Adam, the Fully Human One, he gets Angry.
And that means…so should we.
A lot of well-meaning white folks counsel on social media against ‘adding fuel to the fire’ by adding their own anger and outrage. I’m as guilty as the next comfortable white guy of commending moderation simply because it’s the medium that best comports with my comfort. So I sympathize.
I also believe in the Gospel which tells me Jesus died not for the saintly social justice warrior (and not only for the oppressed!) but for the ungodly.
I can think of no better image of ungodly than that picture of tiki-torch lit rage on a face like mine in front of a statue of a slave master like Thomas Jefferson from a year ago.
The mystery of our faith is not only that Jesus Christ, who is the immutable God in the flesh, embodies the righteous anger befitting the fulllness of humanity, but also, despite such anger (or, because of it?), dies for the unrighteous and ungodly enemies who provoke his ire.
Perhaps it’s only in that mystery that we’re all, white and black/progressive and not, united.