Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Angry Jesus

I've been working through Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. It's a fascinating review of all the ways that the original text of the Bible has been changed, removed, miscopied and mistranslated. I got to his study called "Mark and an Angry Jesus" (pages 133-139) and really dug in. In this study, Ehrman tells us that surviving manuscripts preserve two forms of Mark 1:41 from the story of Jesus healing a man with a skin disease. Most of our present-day translations use one form of the verse:
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"
This is the familiar form in which Jesus acts from compassion. That image merges well with the popular "gentle Healer" image. The other form, acknowledged in my New Revised Standard Version reads:
Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"
Erhman contends that the second reading is the older of the two and that the "anger" within this verse can make sense. Jesus becomes angry several times in Mark when someone doubts his willingness, ability or divine authority to heal. Ehrman further illustrates in Mark 9 when someone asks gingerly "If you are willing you are able to heal me." Jesus gets miffed. Of course he's willing just as he's able and authorized (page 139).

I've always been glad for the righteous anger that explodes when Jesus cleans out the Temple. There's the human Jesus just as disgusted and frustrated and enraged as any of us could get at the sight of desecration. But I hadn't pictured Jesus as Mark often does--with a knowledge of his own gifts and a willingness to use them for good so strong that he's nearly insulted when someone questions him. Jesus, living with an undercurrent of tension and impatience, perhaps. Puts Jesus in a different light. I'm kind of liking this.

This deserves a Bible study. I'm going to read Mark again and watch for the strength of Jesus, the irritation, the rage.

What do you think of an angry Jesus?


  1. "I've always been glad for the righteous anger that explodes when Jesus cleans out the Temple. There's the human Jesus just as disgusted and frustrated and enraged as any of us could get at the sight of desecration."

    Got any ideas about how Jesus would react to the desecration of Unitarian*Universalist churches where one cannot speak openly about God or Jesus without fear of being condescendingly sneered at or even insultingly and abusively attacked by so-called "Humanist" U*Us? I wonder how Jesus would have reacted when a certain unmentionable fundamentalist atheist "Humanist" U*U "pastor" dogmatically preached from his wayward pulpit that God is "a non-existent being" and that belief in God "seems primitive"?

  2. I always enjoyed Mark's portrayal of Jesus. My understanding of Mark's gospel's hinges on a hidden message warning against smugness and self-assurance. There is also a sense of immediacy do to an undercurrent based on an apocalyptic belief. Some theologians have characterized Mark's Jesus as the "hurried Jesus" beaming with impatience. For Mark, there is a clean distinction between the "insiders" (those who understood the message and the "outsiders" (those who just did not get it). But the hidden twist according to Luke Timothy Johnson is,

    "If you think are an insider, you may not be; If you think you understand the mystery of the kingdom and even control it, watch out; it remains alive and fearful beyond your comprehension. If you think discipleship consists in power because of the presence of God, beware; you are called to follow the one who suffered and died"

    Hence the image of an "angry Jesus fits quit nicely.

  3. Thanks for posting my comment LaVerne. I would appreciate a response to my somewhat rhetorical questions but there's no huge rush. This blog post addresses an issue that I have thought of in the past and it was even quite serendipitous timing in light of Rev. Deborah Haffner's blog post in which she quoted Jesus' saying "Love your enemies." I responded to that in my usual manner by pointing out that Jesus did not seem to always practice what he preached in that regard, although I did not specifically mention his Temple clearing assault on his enemies. Chances are pretty good that I will return and say a bit more about what I think of an angry Jesus in response to your question but I have some other priorities right now not the least of them being going out and getting some afternoon sun while the going is good. ;-)

    After that I just might go looking for rising fullish moon.


    Robin Edgar

  4. Thanks for your post, Robin, and I can hear in it the frustration that we Christians can sometimes experience in a predominantly secular Humanist, UU congregation. My feeling is that Jesus would share your irritation and anger. The more important question is what would Jesus ask us to do with that anger? More and more I'm learning that direct confrontation does not work well against a belief. I can't change people's beliefs. I CAN be who I am. I can be courageous and not hide my Christianity. I can speak from my truth, from what I believe, and don't expect to "win" any discussions. I can be present as a Christian. I can speak with my minister. I can find other like-minded people to support me.

    That's what Jesus did. He just kept repeating over and over in different ways and to different people his truth and the truth of his God. Faced with such conviction, something will move.

    Looking forward to your other thoughts about angry Jesus and what lessons we should take from him.

  5. Lynda, I like your comment on the "impatient" Jesus, on edge all the time because there's too much to do and not enough time. I can empathize since that feeling is part of my nature and I have to rein it in. But I can see were it would lead Jesus to these bursts of anger and irritation. I've not really studied the Bible at this higher level (always delving into the depths of the words), but I'm really liking what I'm learning now.