Like many others reading and watching the news reports of children being forcibly removed from their caregivers at our nation’s southern border, I find myself outraged. I’ve found myself accused on social media by others of self-reported faith as being “too emotional” about all this.
As Jesus followers, it should move us to learn what we can from Jesus about how and when to be emotional about things. The four Gospelists in our Bible all seem to agree that Jesus knew something about outrage himself. Fashioning a whip to drive out the Temple merchants was no small point of getting into an argument and raising his voice. He wasn’t just irritated to the point of being angry, he was angry to the point of being outraged by the Temple leaders in Jerusalem.
Perhaps Jesus was accused of being such in the time leading to his crucifixion. Some may reason that if Jesus had only checked his temper at the city gate, he’d have come and gone from Jerusalem without his own crucifixion. But that’s not my point. And it most certainly wasn’t his.
The point is that Jesus, per all four Gospelists, had a temper and he wasn’t afraid to blow his stack once in a while; Temple leaders and symbolic fig trees be damned!!!!!
But Luke teaches us something more uniquely important about the emotional Jesus, and I expect the rest of us can learn something more about ourselves in the process. The text is Luke 19. Specifically, try reading verses 41-45. Here it is below:
41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” (NRSV)
Where the other three Gospelists reported this outrage in the Temple area, some more graphically than Luke did, there is a sequence here worth noting. Luke noted it, for sure. You see, underneath all that anger in Jesus was a lot of hurt. Before lashing out in anger (v. 45), Jesus wept (v. 41). He was saddened to think that his own people would face destruction in the years to come, their own Temple destroyed by Rome in roughly four more decades. He was sad to think of the future that would come about. And then he was mad to think of how his own people were causing that very future by what they were doing now at the Temple. Jesus wept about the future result; he then became outraged about the present cause.
There’s something to be learned here, I believe, when it comes to managing our own emotions.
I wonder if we don’t all have a lot of hurt underneath our own anger. The hurt we have is, if we are as human as Jesus according to Luke’s account, related to a sense of helplessness we feel as we look into the future. Jesus felt helpless to protect the Temple from being destroyed by the Rome Empire in 70 C.E. That hurt him deeply to the point of tears. That is why he wept. And we all weep when we long to protect others from long-range destruction.
Because of my decades of working in mental health counseling to treat hundreds of adults who were traumatized as children and tormented throughout their futures by fears of abandonment and separation anxieties, I weep for the future of these children now in US custody after being traumatized by separation from their loved ones, their primary protectors. I understand that no amount of secondary protection or adoptive parenting or psychotherapy is going to undo the damage to the minds of these children. Four decades from today these kids will still be feeling their Temple destroyed by the American Empire. I weep because I am helpless to prevent that.
But we don’t have to stop at this emotion and live in lament or clinical depression. We have an option. And that option is for us to get angry and let our own leaders know we are outraged by what they are doing in the present to cause the future suffering of others. Because, although we are helpless to prevent the future and protect others’ future suffering, we are not helpless to now release our anger upon the present perpetrators of others’ suffering.
We may, just like Jesus, be helpless where four decades from now is concerned, but we can be helpful where today is concerned if we’re willing to ask WWJD? and then condemn our own leaders in no uncertain terms for making a mockery of our own nation. The United States is to be a place where refugees flee persecution and hunger in order to find safety and support. But our current administration in Washington, like those Jesus faced in his capital of Jerusalem, have made our nation into a den of robbers. Like Jesus, I intend to use my own outrage to help in any way possible to drive out the Republican majorities in Washington who are doing this in the present. I intend to curse the very people of our Republican Congress that fail to produce the fruits of liberty and justice for all just as Jesus cursed the symbolic fig tree of Jerusalem.
I hurt with these refugee families who are being delayed and denied justice at our borders. Underneath my outrage is my deep, deep sorrow. But after my helplessness about the future comes my helpfulness about the present, even if I have to use a whip to drive out the politicians who have made our nation of hope into a den of robbers. Whether people call me “too emotional” or even crucify me at this point, I will be doing what the scriptures clearly say that Jesus. Would. Do. Because that, more than anything else, is where all this anger is coming from.