So here’s the plan: each week that the gospels are covered in Sunday School, I will post one question from my book along with a brief discussion of the issues that it raises.
The Question: Why is Jesus angry (Mark 3:5)? What do you learn from this verse about when, where, and how anger is appropriate?
(adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)
To put Mark 3:1-6 in a little context: this is the fifth of five controversy stories grouped together (they began in Mark 2:1). A controversy story simply means that someone has come to Jesus to complain about something (and hence created a controversy). These stories show escalating negative responses to Jesus.
So why is Jesus angry? Probably because no one would answer his question. What was his question? It was whether it was legal to do good on the sabbath. (Tangent, but there is an interesting ethical discussion to be had here: Jesus is pointing out that an ethic of “don’t do X on the sabbath” is problematic when it means that you can’t cause a positive outcome that requires X. Inaction is a choice, and it has consequences.)
Jesus’ anger interests me. (He may have been angry once before in Mark: there is a textual variant in Mark 1:41. The text is disputed, but Jesus may have been angry at the leper who approached him.) I think we generally consider anger to be wrong. Is that really the case? Is it useful to make a distinction between how we feel and how we act, or does that just let us justify wallowing in negative feelings . . . until we finally act on them? Is anger always wrong? Is the concept of “righteous anger” just a nice Christian veneer for times when we want to blow our tops without being criticized for it? Are there gospel-oriented ways of expressing anger? It feels weird to write that sentence, but I remember training myself and then my children to do this. Instead of being mad and then simmering until I yelled, I used to say “Mommy is very angry right now because you dumped the flour all over the floor.” It sounds lame, but just being able to articulate what I was feeling released a lot of pressure for me. (I was also humbled by how often the child seemed genuinely surprised that I’d be bothered by such a thing and immediately offered to help clean it up.) Then I taught my kids to do it: “Instead of hitting your brother, next time say, ‘It makes me so angry when you wreck my lego creation!’” But—was this approach better or worse than avoiding anger? Was I teaching myself (and them) to attach too much importance to their emotions instead of bridling them?
I think it is really significant in this passage that immediately after Jesus is angry, Mark tells us that Jesus was grieved. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this: does the anger lead to grief? Is that a good thing? Is Jesus modeling what to do here by showing a transition from anger to grief? Can/should we examine our anger to see if/how grief is the root cause? (Is it easier or harder to deal with anger or grief?) Does Jesus just happen to have two emotions at the same time? (How do anger and grief relate?) What does Jesus do with his anger in this story? How might this be a model for us?
And a more general note: If you posed some of the questions that I have listed here, you could probably spend half of class talking about one word from the passage. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the needs of your class and the guidance of the Spirit, but I’d suggest that in general, Sunday School teachers try to cover way too much material—they are a mile wide and an inch deep and this pretty much guarantees a shallow discussion. Focusing, delving, analyzing, and applying have their place. This isn’t Chemistry 301—there isn’t a test on all of the material at the end of the year—so you have no obligation to “cover” every story (or every angle of any story) in the lesson. That said, if you are going to spend half the class on one word, it better be an important word! Given the struggles that most of us have with anger (it isn’t just me, is it?), it might be one of those words.