What Made Jesus Angry

What pushes you over the edge? Raises your blood pressure? Gets your goat? In other words, what makes you angry? Sure, you can identify a person’s passions by where he places his financial resources or how she spends her time, but what makes a person angry can also reveal a lot about what he loves and esteems. What do we learn when we apply this reality to Jesus? Observing Jesus through an exploration of the Gospels, I noticed two things that really seem to get Jesus worked up…to make Him angry.

1. A religious attitude – an attitude (or set of beliefs) that prioritizes rules over relationship, which almost always results in a lack of compassion and mercy, distancing people from God rather than drawing them near to God
2. An elitist attitude – an attitude (or set of beliefs) that excludes, or creates obstacles for, a person or group of people because of nationality, race, religion, social status, etc. from the mercy, compassion, and/or saving grace of God

Not only did these attitudes anger Jesus, but also when He confronted them – whether overtly or subtly – more often than not, sparks flew and tempers flared. The Gospel writers provide many examples of Jesus’ response to both attitudes, but for the sake of brevity, I would like to offer one of each.

A religious attitude Have you ever noticed what group of people stood as Jesus’ primary opposition and how many confrontations Jesus had with them? The Jewish religious leaders. And as a group (exceptions always exist), a religious attitude, as described above, characterized them. Check out Luke 13:10-17.  

Like a good Jewish rabbi, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, where He sees a woman who has been bent over for eighteen years. Jesus calls the woman to Himself, declares her free from her sickness, and touches her. Immediately she stands erect, and elated, she begins glorifying God. The head of the synagogue is none too pleased. He points out to both Jesus and the onlookers that there are six days to “work” and one day to rest, the Sabbath. “Get healed on one of the work days,” he indignantly spews. How does Jesus reply? "You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Read through the Gospels. See for yourself. How many times does Jesus perform a Sabbath healing, and how do the Jewish religious leaders respond? When the religious leaders and Jesus go head-to-head, about what are they in disagreement? What do the religious leaders prioritize? In contrast, what does Jesus proclaim is the heart of the Father? In what ways do many of the parables Jesus tells shatter the notion that a religious attitude is what God wants from us and is a prerequisite for admission into the Kingdom of God?

An elitist attitude Despite being an oppressed people, the Jews held firm to their sense of nationalistic pride as God’s chosen and covenant people, yet often forgetting that through them God had always intended to, and promised to, bless all the peoples and nations of the earth. Take a look at what happens at the beginning of Jesus’ earthy ministry in Luke 4:14-30.

Luke introduces the encounter, which takes place in Jesus’ hometown synagogue on a Sabbath, with a general statement about Jesus’ ministry. In short, under the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has been going around Galilee teaching in the synagogues, praised by all. The Nazareth exchange seems to begin pleasantly enough with a reading from Isaiah 61, but by the end, the enraged crowd chases Jesus out-of-town, intending to throw Him off a cliff! What happened? What moved the multitude from mesmerized to murderous? The answer is found in the uncovering of the crowd’s elitist attitude and Jesus’ challenge to it.

Quite understandably first century Jews wanted not only freedom from their oppressors, Rome, but to see their God execute vengeance on their enemies as in the days of old. However, in the reading of Isaiah 61, Jesus leaves out a key phrase “…the day of vengeance of our God…” What? No vengeance on our enemies? Then, when Jesus wants to point to examples of faithfulness in the Israel’s history, He reaches back not to the great Patriarchs, prophets, or kings of Israel, but to the Gentiles (traditional enemies of the Jews, seen as “far away” from the heart of God) whose lives intersected with Israel – Naaman the leper and the widow of Zarephath. Jesus’ message? God IS fulfilling His promises to Israel and to all of creation, through Me, and that promise is Good News for ALL people, not just the Jews.

In light of what made Jesus angry as He walked our earth wrapped in human flesh, what can we learn about Jesus’ heart and mission? And how might these things affect what and how we share the Good News – the Gospel, Jesus – with those around us?