As I write this article, I am filled with anger. A disabled boy I know from Christian camp was recently portrayed in a compromising pose on the website of a popular Boston sports entertainment website, supposedly for a good laugh. I joined with other friends of the family to seek justice, or at least an apology. I asked myself, why am I so enraged by this since I don’t even know the family all that well? The only answer I could come up with is Jesus was also enraged.
Jesus showed gentle grace and empowering forgiveness toward all he met including prostitutes, divorcees, blind and crippled beggars, mentally ill, and those with communicable diseases who were often, like my friend’s disabled boy, ridiculed and marginalized. But when Jesus saw injustice, he spoke out with brutal indignation, and when he saw injustice within his Father’s house (the Jerusalem Temple), his righteous anger let loose. Those selling animals for sacrifices and changing money for financial offerings were charging significant markups. Worshipers were forced to pay these exorbitant rates for sacrifices at the Temple, and would have especially impacted those traveling long distances in pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
So we read about our gentle Savior: Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “my house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:12-13). Interestingly, the very next verse reports that the blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.
Though my anger isn’t always righteous, I believe there is a very real place for righteous anger for those who follow Jesus, though I also take note that the anger of Jesus never harmed another person, ever.
I recently returned from a mission trip to Haiti with my teenage daughter. People have asked why I went, and I believe my motivation is similar. I’m outraged by the injustice toward and within Haiti, and so is Jesus. So Jesus and I traveled together, and then I met Jesus through the children as they climbed all over me during worship services, and through an artist (which gives new meaning to the term “starving artist”) I met on the beach, through children at an orphanage who likewise clung to us as we arrived, through the medical workers and other missionaries there including my own daughter, and through countless others. I certainly witnessed the gentle grace and empowering work of Jesus in Haiti.
Jesus also showed me firsthand the complexities of the issues in Haiti. Throwing money at the country cannot possibly solve the systemic problems and lack of infrastructure. Haiti is oppressed through complicated international relationships, and loathed even by their neighbor, not all that well off either, the Domincan Republic. But the most hurtful sight was how Haitians themselves oppress one another. Violence is rampant and unchecked, riots abound, fruitful leadership is sparse, lottery houses line every block to take advantage of the poorest of the poor, and the women appear to be virtual slaves. Violence against women is widely tolerated, women hold no leadership positions even within churches, and do not drive so are entirely dependent on male friends or relatives for transportation. So I also witnessed the brutal indignation of Jesus concerning these systemic injustices.
It’s tempting to shrug and say that the problems are overwhelming, the injustices unsolvable. However, I’m reminded that this was just as true in the time of Jesus and that did not discourage him from speaking out, healing, empowering and offering forgiveness and healing to all in need. And all those who dare to follow Jesus receive his resurrection power and authority to confront injustice. We don’t even need to travel to Haiti – our work can begin right at home, in our neighborhoods, our schools, our places of work, our places of worship, together with countless other people and organizations striving to continue the work Jesus began as he quoted from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17-19).
Jesus would end up on a cross for all this, but through his death came new life never before possible. So as followers of Jesus, let us not be discouraged by the cross in front of us because God’s love will prevail.
The Rev. Gwyneth Arrison is serves as pastor of the Merrimacport United Methodist Church of Merrimac www.MerrimacportUMC.org.