I believe we usually read our Bibles too piously. We treat the stories as though they were stiff morality tales with little if any human drama. We seem to especially do this with the stories of Jesus. We read the stories of His actions, we read His great teachings, but I feel we often fail to see His very real humanity, particularly as seen in His emotions. When we read of His anger or sorrow, even His joy, we tend to think of these as the qualities of a deity and not as the emotions of a very real human being.
Uni and I were struck with his humanity the other morning during our reading of Matthew's Gospel. An old story we'd read many times, but somehow we felt His emotions more in this reading. The story is found in chapters 21-24 of Matthew's Gospel.
Jesus had entered the Jerusalem temple courtyard not long after His triumphal entry into the city and He was confronted by various groups with challenges as to His authority: the chief priests, the scribes and elders - perhaps the whole Sanhedrin; then the Pharisees with the Herodians (a sycophantic political party); then the Sadducees. All of these attempting to stump Him or find something with which to accuse Him. Then the questions about the greatest commandment. We can almost feel His impatience growing as He carefully answers, sometimes with a rebuke. Then He turns the tables on them and hits them with a question they can't answer: how can the Messiah be both David's son and David's Lord? Of course they can't answer without conceding that the Messiah is both because He is God incarnate. They are stumped! Matthew tells us "no one was able to answer Him a word, neither did anyone question Him anymore from that day forward." (Matthew 22:46)
And then it's Jesus' turn to really let loose. He begins His tirade slowly and carefully at first, with a warning to both the crowds and His disciples, about the scribes and Pharisees - those expert teachers of the Law of Moses and its accumulated traditions. He essentially tells his hearers, "Do as they say, but not as they do - they're a bunch of hypocrites!" Then He turns to the scribes and Pharisees themselves and really blasts them! He calls them every name in the book: "hypocrites, blind guides, sons of Hell, sons of murderers, snakes, brood of vipers!" We can feel the buildup of rage. We can see the anger flashing in His eyes as He tells them that "all the guilt of all the blood of righteous persons murdered on earth" will be avenged on them. (Matthew 23:35)
Pause for a moment. Why was Jesus taking out His rage on these people? He knew He was going to be crucified; He had already spoken of it a number of times. But the leaders of the plot to murder Him were the chief priests, most of whom belonged to another party, the party of the Sadducees. It would be those priests who would conspire with the Romans in His death. Why didn't Jesus let His rage fall on them? Was Jesus mistaken in His foresight of His crucifixion? No.
I suspect it was because Jesus was "theologically" more in tune with the Pharisaic party. Perhaps He felt the priestly party was too far gone. But the Pharisees were those who were perceived as the spiritual leaders and teachers of Israel. They were closer to the truth and thus Jesus held them more accountable.
But immediately after this blistering tirade, we see what appears to be a total shift in Jesus' emotions. After pronouncing His judgment, "Amen! I'm telling you all, all these things will come upon this generation!" (Matthew 23:36), His rage turns into deep sorrow. Perhaps the thought of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and of His people - the destruction that He had just foretold - had hit Him with unquenchable grief.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who murders the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I've wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you didn't want me to. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I'm telling you, you won't see me again until you say, 'blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord!'" (Matthew 27:37-39)
The tears of rage have become tears of sorrow. Thought Matthew doesn't mention Jesus' weeping here, Luke tells us that He had wept over the city and uttered a similar lament as He approached it, on His triumphal entry.
Matthew omits the story of the widow's offering that Mark and Luke tell us occurs next (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4) but we can imagine the deep emotion still quivering in Him.
At this point Jesus leaves the temple precincts and we're told that His disciples point out to Him the beauty of the temple. Were they attempting to calm their Lord who was still trembling with a mixture of anger and grief? Were they afraid? The story continues with Jesus detailed predictions of the future destruction of Jerusalem.
I suspect that many of us are uncomfortable, even afraid, when we consider Jesus as filled with rage or sorrow. He appears to have let His emotions take control. That doesn't fit with our picture of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" or of a halo-wearing, medieval- English- speaking saint. He's too much like us!
But wasn't Jesus like us? Didn't the Second Person of the Trinity become human like we are? Yes, we're told that He was "without sin." But we're not told that he was without emotion or without human weakness. We want a nice Jesus, not one who flies off the handle or bursts into tears, not one with rough edges. We want a two dimensional Jesus, not one as human as we are.
But there are some problems with our bland picture of Jesus. First, it's not one that's in agreement with the facts. Read the Gospels "again for the first time" (old corn-flakes' commercial). You'll see a Jesus that defies our stereotypes.
Secondly, if we picture Jesus incorrectly, what does that do to our Christian life? If we are to be imitators of Christ, if we are to do what Jesus would do, we need to get to know Him better as a human being and live as He did or would. We may need to stop seeing the Christian life as just being nice and be unafraid to embarrass ourselves.
When was the last time you got angry and spoke out about hypocrisy or injustice? When was the last time you wept over those you loved - your family - your neighbors - your country - your church - who were suffering the consequences of their own rejection of the truth?