When we think about the anger of Jesus we usually are thinking about Jesus flipping tables in the temple. This episode is, of course, not the only time we catch a glimpse of the anger (the good and right anger might we add) of Jesus. For example, we might turn our bibles to the beginning of Mark 3.
The Pharisees were already on high alert about Jesus. They had heard how the carpenter’s son from backwoods Galilee had claimed to forgive the sins of a paralytic. And they turned up their collective noses when this same miracle-man sat down at Levi’s table and shared a meal with prostitutes and pagans. The Pharisees also took note of Jesus’ lack of fasting and his “liberalism” with the Sabbath. Jesus was making some pretty earth-shaking claims about himself, and yet he did not measure up to the religious standard of the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t separate himself from sinners as they believed he should, rather, he walked and stood and sat among them.
The pride and resentment the Pharisees felt towards Jesus began to fester inside the dark parts of their hearts and instead of bringing it out into the light where it would wither and die, they locked it up and fed it some more. Instead of allowing the earth-shaking words of Jesus to shake their own hearts and loosen up the old, crusty sin inside, they stopped up their ears and refused to hear, just as the ancient prophets once prophesied. Instead of considering the possibility that Jesus really was who he appeared to be, and how that truth might up-end their whole way of looking at religion and life, they retreated back into the shadows of rules and rituals, turning their back on the approaching light.
So, when the Pharisees followed a man with a withered hand into the synagogue on Sabbath, their hearts were already well-hardened. They stood in the crowd that day not to hear the word of God, but seeking to silence the Word of God. Opportunity knocked when Jesus singled out the man with the withered hand and had him stand in front of the onlookers. Then Jesus asked the crowd a question: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
The Pharisees were the experts on what was lawful and what wasn’t and so everyone turned to them for the answer. Of course it was lawful to do good and to save life on the Sabbath, they must have thought. Jesus was right. But their hardened hearts would not allow them to say as much. In their heart of hearts they had convinced themselves that Jesus was evil and they could not bring themselves to admit that they were wrong. They had convinced themselves that their resentment of Jesus was justified and they let it grow and grow until it was a beast they could not tame.
The Pharisees couldn’t say the wrong answer, and they couldn’t bring themselves to say the right answer, so they remained silent. And Jesus knew what that silence meant. As before, Jesus knew in his spirit what was going on inside their hearts. He looked at the Pharisees, standing there dumb and deaf to the truth, and Jesus got angry. He looked at his fellow Israelites whom he had come to save from the filth and bondage of sin, and he saw that they were digging in the heels and stiffening their necks in stubbornness like their ancestors before them. Instead of laying hold of the forgiveness and freedom embodied in Jesus, they turned back to the vomit of their own sins and lapped it up. Jesus understood the eternal consequences of that choice, and he was deeply distressed. Jesus desires the salvation of all and he does not delight in the slow death of the lost sinner. Jesus was angry because he knew the Pharisees were standing before the true light of the world and they still couldn’t see. The eyes of their hearts were blinded by the darkness of their own sin.
Following the silence of the Pharisees, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand. With disgust, the Pharisees left the synagogue and Psalm 2 began to echo across the walls of their stony hearts:
“Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed…”Psalm 2:1