From Mark’s Gospel ….
Jesus entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
(From the Daily Office Readings, Mar. 19, 2012, Mark 7:24b-30)
Jesus’ response to this Gentile woman who asks him to heal her demon-possessed daughter is very troubling. We are bothered, even angered that Jesus can be offensive, impatient, and rude. But Mark does not hesitate to show us Jesus as angry, sharp-tongued, and demanding. We are more comfortable with a tame, sentimentalized, gentle Jesus meek and mild. The Gospels and the extra-canonical tradition reveal Jesus to be a powerful and complex figure. He is, as tradition says, in every way as we are (yet did not sin), which should suggest that he shares all the complexity and emotional variety of any human being. In addition, we must remember that this man is the incarnation of a living and personal God, a passionate and sometimes angry God. We should not be surprised to find him displaying emotions that make us uncomfortable. ~ Moreover, this episode reminds us that Jesus was a Jew, a rabbi who firmly believed in the priority of the Jewish people in God’s eyes. He believed that there was an irrevocable covenant binding them to God and God to them. Jesus’ mission was to them: the message of liberation and reconciliation that he preached, taught, and lived was for them. ~ So Jesus was irritated and angry, and we are uncomfortable with that. However, given that anger is a very natural part of human life, and that Jesus was fully human, we should not be uncomfortable with those moments when Jesus got angry or irritated with the demands placed upon him. I think one reason we are uncomfortable is that we don’t want to think of Jesus as human, despite what our theology may say; we prefer to think of him as only divine, not given to the vagaries of the flesh. To deny Jesus’ temper, however, to refuse to allow him occasionally to be irritated is to deny him his full humanity. ~ The thing that is important is not that Jesus got angry, but that he was able to so without being controlled by his anger. This is important because of where we are at right now as a people. There are individuals (and groups) who are deliberately trying to irritate us because it helps them to earn their living or to push their political agenda. (Rush Limbaugh on the Right and Bill Maher on the Left both come to mind; they make their money by annoying their opponents and propping up their “bases”.) ~ We who follow Jesus, we who hope to conform our lives to his, need to emulate his example. We need to learn to not let our anger and irritation take control. Jesus obviously had learned ways to control this most troubling aspects of being human so that his divinity could shine through. As we follow Jesus, each of us must strive to do the same, and I believe we can with his help and grace. May each of us find ways (with God’s assistance) to manage our angers, our irritations, our irrationalities, to control those things within us that undermine the mission of liberation and reconciliation which was Jesus’ and which we have as Jesus’ disciples.