Why Was Jesus Mad?

April 2, 2017 | John 11:1-45 | Lent 5

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

I do not envy the task of Bible translators.  When confronted with a mysterious word in either Hebrew or Greek, they have to choose a word or phrase to accurately convey the true meaning of the text. (fun fact: in the Old Testament, the word “kidneys” was used to describe the inmost being of a person, the word we normally use today being “heart.”  But you won’t find a Bible verse that says, “Oh how my kidneys yearn within me to see the Lord!”  This is but one example of how cultural considerations must be made when translating the Bible into English).

John chapter 11 is a great example where many Bible translators simply get it wrong.

John 11:33 reads, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”  I took this from the English Standard Version, which is supposed to be one of the most literal (read: “accurate”) modern-day English translations.  But what does “deeply moved” really mean?  I’m sorry but when I see this phrase, I think of indigestion.  After his lunch at Taco Bell, Jesus traveled to Bethany where, because of his liberal use of the Diablo Sauce on his fresco style bean burrito, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

When we read the verse in its original Greek, we come to the conclusion that Jesus was more than deeply moved; he was enraged.  Pastor Tim Keller, in his sermon on this passage, understands this verse to mean that Jesus was filled with passionate anger, almost like a lion ready to let out a ferocious roar.

So why did many translators choose to declaw Jesus?  My best guess is that we are troubled by the sight of Jesus actually getting angry.  We would rather not see Jesus ready to really go bonkers, maybe with the exception of flipping over the tables of money changers in the Temple Courts.  We would rather see Jesus angry and disappointed at the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Isn’t anger a sin?  Not necessarily.  Anger is an emotion, a feeling that one experiences when provoked.  To be angry isn’t necessarily to sin; oftentimes, it’s what we do when we are angry that leads to sinful actions or thoughts.  I remind myself of this every time I play a round of golf (which is about once a year).  Golfers label their balls so as not to mistakenly pick up or play another golfer’s ball.  I mark mine with a simple Psalm 4:4: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.”  The temptation to lash out after hitting an errant shot is real – just ask any golfer.  But I have learned to not allow my anger get the best of me when I am out enjoying this game.  I only wish I could mark other areas of my life with Psalm 4:4 and follow suit!

Again, Jesus didn’t sin when he became angry.  But He did grow angry and we cannot overlook that.

Why was Jesus mad?  This is an important question and the context of John 11 will help us understand.

Essentially, Jesus was angry at the death of his good friend Lazarus and at the sorrow and grief being experienced by Mary and Martha.  Jesus grew angry because Jesus knew that this is not how the world should be. Jesus was filled with so much anger and sadness, in fact, that at the sight of Lazarus’ tomb, he openly wept in a shameless display of raw emotion.

This is an image of Jesus I have come to truly appreciate.  My Jesus is a Lord who does not simply heal and restore people because He has the power to do so.  No.  My Jesus is one who enters fully into humanity to experience our deepest sorrows and fears.  My Jesus is one who identifies with us when we are at our lowest.  I imagine that Mary and Martha were a mess at this time.  Hair disheveled, eyes puffy and nose bright red.  Their dresses probably filthy with all the tears mixed in with the dirt every time they collapsed to the ground.  My Jesus was angry at this funeral scene because He fully entered into the suffering and pain of His dear friends.

But death did not have the final say in this story.   We read through to the end and see that Jesus displayed His awesome power by raising Lazarus from the grave.  This miracle is not meant to be stared at and memorialized; no, the sign points us to the greater reality that in Christ Jesus we have the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

Today, I believe this anger would suit the Church well.  There is no shortage of suffering in the world around us.  Beloved Church, if we are to love the world with the love of Jesus, shouldn’t that also mean that we grow angry when we see pain and suffering in our midst?  Should we not also have a deep anger welling up within us when we see the dehumanization of others?  When we see the images of war in Syria, or famine in Somalia, or racism and bigotry in the images of a burnt out African-American church or the shattered windows of a graffiti-marked mosque, should we also not burn with anger at the sight of injustice among us?

Like Psalm 4:4 instructs us, in our anger may we not sin.  Instead, like the Lord Jesus may our anger move us into a compassionate engagement with the world that is desperate for the touch of Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

Jesus Confronts Two Types of Blindness

March 26, 2017 | John 9:1-41 | Lent 4

Make it a Blockbuster Night!

Back in 2000, a tech entrepreneur named Reed Hastings flew out to Dallas to meet with John Antioco, CEO of Blockbuster.  Hastings proposed that Blockbuster purchase his fledgling DVD rental-by-mail service.  His price tag?  $50 million.  Antioco, whose company was valued at nearly $3 billion and had almost no competition in the video rental industry, passed.

By 2010, Blockbuster had declared bankruptcy and gone the way of the dinosaur.  And Hastings’ company?  It’s a name you might be familiar with: Netflix.

Blockbuster’s failure to adapt to the changing landscape of technology, social media and consumer trends is a lesson taught in many an MBA classroom today.  And Antioco, who was widely respected by fellow executives, ended up blinded by his own successes and failed to see that, in Netflix, the future had arrived.

But this story is a cautionary tale about being blind in business matters and making poor decisions that ultimately derailed a video rental company – a sad event indeed but not exactly cataclysmic in the eternal scheme of things.

Jesus Confronts Two Types of Blindness

Jesus speaks of another kind of blindness in this week’s lectionary reading.  Actually, two.  The story opens with Jesus and his disciples coming across a man blind from birth begging along the edge of the road.  His is a physical blindness, an inability to see with his own eyes.  As the story goes, Jesus heals this man and chaos and commotion ensue.  And this leads to Jesus eventually calling out a second,more insidious, disease – spiritual blindness, the inability to see that one is spiritually sick and in need of help.  Spiritual blindness was an apt description of the Pharisees and religious experts who came onto the scene.

What are the indications that the Pharisees were blind?

The Pharisees refused to believe the healed man’s testimony.

Clearly, something dramatic had happened to this man – let’s call him Hank – and others took notice:

8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

The Pharisees asked Hank what happened.  He gave them an honest account (v.15)  They again questioned him, only this time they asked him, “What is your opinion of this man who healed you?”  The guy must be a prophet,  Hank honestly surmised.

But the leaders still doubted.  So, they called in Hank’s parents and read them the riot act:

“Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

I’m surprised that the Pharisees didn’t ask them if Jesus ordered the Code Red.  Eventually, they summon Hank for another round of questioning and that sparks this testy exchange (it reads better if you imagine that Hank is one snarky Hebrew):

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

The Pharisees see the same thing yet do not come to the same conclusion.  They refuse to believe.

The Pharisees refused to see the evidence that Jesus was someone special; instead, they considered him a sinner.

Jesus made mud pies and healed Hank on the Sabbath and this proves problematic for the religious authorities.  I see two distinct problems with their reaction.  First, they already don’t believe that this was a legitimate healing.  They are so skeptical that they even interview Hank’s parents to verify his identity.  If they don’t believe a healing took place, why are they worked up about a non-healing that took place on the Sabbath?  No healing = no work, right?  Or did the Pharisees consider the mud-making as work?  Either way, in failing to acknowledge the miracle, they also fail to see a transformed life.  All they see is a violation of their strict Sabbath law.

Second, isn’t it ironic that they accused Jesus of “working” on the Sabbath….and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day in full investigation mode?  Isn’t that considered work?   On the Sabbath, people come to synagogue to worship and pray; on this day, they were given a sneak peek into the pilot episode of CSI: Jerusalem.

The Pharisees react with anger and rage when other people are celebrating and in awe and wonder.  

Exhibit A of Pharisaic Rage:

28 Then they cursed him….

This was the Pharisees’ reaction to Hank giving them attitude from the verses mentioned above.

Imagine a scene at CUMC one Sunday where Chris Chui and Barbara Nagatoshi pray for Ellen Shirai’s knees.  God answers their prayer.  Then, Pastor Sam walks in demanding to know why there’s such a loud party going on inside Naeri Chapel.  Ellen testifies.  And then Psam drops some F-bombs on everyone because they aren’t ready for the Call to Worship.  If this scene sounds surreal, then maybe you’re not blind.

Exhibit B:

34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw Hank[not his real name] out of the synagogue.

Somebody get these guys a Snickers.  Jesus casts out blindness while the Pharisees cast out the blind who are healed.  Something is wrong when anger blinds you to the reality that people have come to synagogue for spiritual nourishment and guidance.

In closing, these are a few of my takeaways from the story:

  1. Jesus clearly showed compassion and love to Hank and the point was taken further by Jesus when he said that this was his mission on earth – to give sight to the blind.  The healing of physical infirmities was a sign, then, pointing to a deeper reality that Jesus came to alleviate spiritual illness.  Hank became a living, breathing sermon illustration that the Son of Man came to do some serious work.
  2. But like the Pharisees, there are people even today who claim that they have no need of a Savior, of a Healer.  There are also critics who openly doubt the transforming, healing touch of Jesus.  It’s not on us to judge or criticize these people.  However, I choose to believe that Jesus would want us to side with the Hanks of the world, even if that means ruffling the feathers of modern-day Pharisees.
  3. Let us be the church that regularly testifies and celebrates when the blind receive sight and encounter Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.