The Anger of a Gentle Man

Matthew 23

January 23

I’ve heard a quote from an author of fiction. In The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss writes “There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.” While we could think about every point, the one most important to the author, and for our reading today, is the last one : what does it look like to kindle the anger of  a gentle man?

Jesus was a man of gentleness.(Matthew 11:29) He did not “break a battered reed” or “extinguish a smoldering wick”(Matthew 12:20), meaning he was careful to not be aggressive in his movements and actions. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as sheep are silent so was he. (Acts 8:32) But, we must never assume that Jesus was timid. The same man who accepted his sacrifice as the plan of God(Matthew 26:39) and who felt the lost-ness of the people in his gut (Matthew 9:36) is also the man who turned over the tables (Matthew 21:12) and called out the Pharisees like we see today. 

Why did Jesus rail against the scribes and the Pharisees in the way he did? It is interesting to note it is not about theological disagreement. If you compare Jesus’s teaching to the teachings of the Pharisees, they are similar on most counts. It’s not about what they say, but about what they do… or rather, what they fail to do. They claim that to be righteous, holy, dedicated, people must behave in specific ways. However, they then do not help people meet those demands. Jesus tells a healed man to take his mat and go home; instead of praising God for the miraculous healing, the Pharisees complained the man was carrying his mat! They were so focused on the letter of the law, and keeping it so that they would be seen as holy, that they were unable to see the Holy One who was in their midst.

Because of their hypocrisy, their “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” mentality, Jesus pronounces seven or eight woes upon them (the second woe, “devour widows houses” is not in the earliest manuscripts). Jesus is angry enough at their actions to ask God to bring a curse upon them; that is what these woes are. They block people from the kingdom, they attack the weakest in society, they convert people not to truth but to their own misconception of God and scripture, they twist the words of promises and vows, they focus on the minutiae of law keeping while ignoring mercy and justice, they strive to look holy while not BEING holy, they claim they would have listened to the prophets while plotting to kill God’s greatest prophet, Jesus.

WHAT ANGER! You can feel the white hot accusations that Jesus rails against these men. He does not treat the woman caught in adultery, or the sinner at the well, or the demon-possessed, or Zacchaeus this way. Jesus says “go and sin no more”, he says “I, who speak to you, am he [the Messiah]”, his presence demands that demons flee and that Zacchaeus give back what he has stolen. But we don’t see his anger on the people, because they recognize that they are broken sinners. The scribes and Pharisees are committing the greatest sins, because while being blind to the light of the world, they claim that they see. 

Jesus’s anger is replaced with sorry in verses 37-39. Can you hear him cry out, lamenting over the people who are currently rejecting him? How often I wanted to gather you in! How I longed for you. But you were unwilling! Jesus knows that he does not have long left. He knows the ultimate rejection is coming and is venting his final words towards the city and its leaders before he is killed for the sins of the world. He is *the* man of gentleness, showing anger to those who harm the faith and obedience of others. 

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

  1. When you picture Jesus, who do you picture? A kind teacher, expressing words of care? A strong Lord, decreeing his will to his followers? A fiery prophet, defending faith and expressing woe to those who disobey God? In what ways would your faith life be different if one of these images were lacking, or one placed above the truth of the other two?
  2. Should we assume Jesus only speaks this way to the hypocrites of his day? In what ways might you and I be hypocritical? Is Jesus shouting at us to wake us up and have us change our ways before it is too late?
  3. If you do not have a relationship with Jesus, I warn you that this gentle Lamb will one day come as the Roaring Lion, the Carpenter of Nazareth will come as the King of creation. Are you ready for the wrath of God displayed in the return of Christ to judge those who sin on the earth? (Revelation 19:15) If you are not, what can you do today to take the next step to make Jesus both your savior and your lord?

*Note: Jake Ballard has never read The Wise Man’s Fear or any other book by Patrick Rothfuss. Neither Jake nor Seek-Grow-Love condone any other part of his work or works or the views expressed therein. 

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