18. The Emotions of the Messiah

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant."
(Mark 10:14)

That human beings get angry, even seethe with rage, surprises no one. Each of us, based upon personal experience, knows what it is to be angry at someone, with all the emotional energy this generates. What might surprise us is that Jesus, the Messiah of God, got angry — at least this is how Mark describes his reaction to the disciples.

From Old Testament stories we become attuned to the wrath of God – His just response to human sin and rebellion. And even in the Gospel story Jesus portrays God’s wrath when in Jerusalem he drives the moneychangers and traders out of the temple, demonstrating God’s coming judgment (Mark 11:15-18). But Mark does not explicitly describe Jesus in this passage as angry.

It is in Mark 10:14 where Mark tells us that Jesus became angry with his disciples. Once before Mark revealed Jesus’ wrath (orge, 3:5). The Jewish religious leaders refused to respond to a question he asked – "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill". They knew the answer, but kept silent. Jesus’ response was to heal the man with the withered arm, but as he did this, Mark tells us Jesus was angry and filled with grief because of their stubborn disbelief.

But why would Jesus be angry (aganaktein) with those who were his loyal followers? People were bringing their children to Jesus, expecting that he would ‘bless them’. Of course he does, wrapping them in his arms (10:16). What surprises us, perhaps, is that Jesus’ disciples rebuked them and tried to prevent them from reaching Jesus. No motive for their behaviour is provided by Mark. (Consider the indignation of the high priests and other religious leaders to the children’s shouts of hosanna as Jesus enters Jerusalem (Matthew 21:15).)

In 9:37 Mark recorded one of Jesus’ key discipleship principles – "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me." Receiving Jesus, embracing his mission and accepting his claims, meant that one would also receive "one of these little children". This is how one demonstrated his or her willingness to be "servant of all" (9:35). There too Jesus wrapped his arms around a child (9:36).

Since he has just recently taught his disciples the importance of caring in his name (i.e. under his authority) for the weak, the vulnerable, the ones without status, Jesus perhaps expected them to respond differently. Did he hope that they would discern the meaning of this principle and boldly begin to apply it as they had opportunity? Did he anticipate that they would serve and assist the children, helping them meet Jesus and have opportunity for him to talk with them and share God’s love? If so, he was disappointed.

Mark tells us that Jesus became angry with his followers (10:14). He orders them to "let the children come to me! Do not hinder them!" The word Mark uses here to describe Jesus’ response can describe a deep irritation, a seething indignation (aganaktein). The same term defines the feelings of some who observed the woman who pours the expensive perfume over Jesus (14:4). They consider it a waste and are irritated or angrily indignant at her irresponsible behaviour. When James and John ask Jesus to give them the most powerful and prominent positions in his kingdom, the other disciples are really upset and angry at their raw ambition (10:41).

So Jesus is really upset with his disciples’ action against the little children, at their failure to grasp one of his essential discipleship principles – being slave of all.

I wonder how indignant Jesus gets with us today? We sometimes worry lest we ‘grieve the Spirit’, a very serious matter. But do some of our responses as Christians to Jesus’ teaching make him angry, seething with irritation and indignation? When we fail to carry out the Messiah’s mission and follow the Messiah’s principles, should we be surprised if he becomes angry and indignant with us? When the disciples acted to stop the children from reaching Jesus, they probably were responding in a culturally conditioned way. No one else seems surprised at their action. Only Jesus gets upset. Which of our culturally conditioned responses hinders the mission of Jesus and makes him angry? Which of our attempts to ‘help’ the Messiah, in fact turn out to be counterproductive, because we have failed to grasp the essential principles of discipleship?

Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today,

  1. consider how your responses to people, perhaps culturally acceptable, nevertheless would make Jesus, our Messiah, indignant? Perhaps it would be the treatment of someone thought unimportant or bothersome? Perhaps it is an attitude that is racially based.
  2. what is our response to Jesus Christ when we discern that our actions have made him angry and indignant? Do we ignore it? Do we repent, confess and correct our behaviours and motives?
  3. are there times when we, as representatives of the Messiah, should demonstrate his indignation and anger at inappropriate behaviour and attitudes? How should we do this?

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