One of the books that we’ve been reading to Hazel around bedtime lately has been a collection of the Little Critter stories. Now, it’s a collection of maybe seven stories, so it can get repetitive, but Hazel really enjoys them. And one of them is the story, “I was just so mad.” It details the frustrations of Little Critter as he keeps being told what he can’t do, each page ending with his assertion, “I was just so mad.” Well, Hazel has taken to that phrase.
She will, from time to time, cross her arms, furrow her brow, turn down her mouth, and proclaim to anyone listening, “SO MAD.” It’s honestly adorable and made all the more amusing by the fact that most of the time, there’s nothing that she’s actually mad at. However, even as she’s exploring how to express her emotions, Annie and I have to check ourselves from too quickly steering her away from anger. There’s a real tendency for people to want to avoid anger—and especially telling little girls they can’t be angry
Because when we look at how we, culturally, respond to anger, it’s pretty telling that we don’t think it’s a good emotion, or a useful one, even when it’s not even directed at us. There are certain topics you just don’t discuss with that one friend, because you know it’ll make them mad. The angry coworker in many offices ends up getting whatever he wants because no one wants anyone to express anger and appeasement ends up solving the immediate problem. Even when there are horrific injustices, we chide people’s tone for being too angry. But anger, even though it’s a hard emotion to handle, has its place. Sometimes, anger is really called for.
When Jesus stepped into the outer courtyard of the Temple, what he saw filled him with rage. Merchants were hawking sacrificial animals like they were in an ordinary marketplace. Coin peddlers exchanged currencies with cold calculations. The entire attention in the very house of God was being paid to how the sacrificial system could be used to make a buck off of faithful, dedicated people. This was Jesus watching the televangelist bilk the last of a senior’s retirement fund so he could buy a third jet and call it the work of the Lord. And he burned with zeal because of it.
He flipped tables. He poured out coins. He broke open dove cages. He took a whip he made with his own hands and drove the cattle and sheep out of the courtyard. This wasn’t some unnecessary outburst, or an inappropriate display of emotion. This was the very anger of God burning hot at the injustice of putting profits before people, exploitation over exaltation, the bottom line over the bottom rungs. It was that cynical manipulation of people who did not have that much to spare that sent him over the edge. And it was right in line with God’s own anger throughout the Bible.
Through Isaiah: “Yet day after day they seek me…as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness…Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…?”
And from Ezekiel: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
And Amos: “[Y]ou trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain…I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
And on and on. When God is most angry is when the poor, the oppressed, the least of these are denied justice by those who can give it to them; when the poor are exploited and swindled by those who already have enough. These are the things that are worth getting angry about. The way a child of God in the richest nation on earth can be utterly bankrupted by a bad illness is worth getting angry about. The way systemic racism continues to shorten the life spans, deny opportunity, and excuse unjust deaths of Black people made in the image of God is worth getting angry about. The way children of the body of Christ are still being put into camps with the veneer of “it’s not like the last guy!” is worth getting angry about. The way there is more of an uproar over a potato losing the title “Mr.” than the fact that LGBTQ individuals are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers is worth getting angry about. The way a quarter of children in this very country live with food insecurity, millions of adults have to work multiple jobs to barely make it each month, and being in need is constantly demonized as a sin while five multibillionaires got twenty billion dollars richer during the worst health crisis in modern history is worth getting angry about.
The reality of anger is that it captures people’s attention. Jesus preaching politely about the wrongs of exploiting the poor for their faithful devotion to God might have been eloquent, maybe even stinging if the merchants took the time to listen, but it wouldn’t have gotten their attention. The priests immediately went to see what was up when Jesus started flipping tables and dumping money bags. All four of the Gospels remember how furious Jesus was. The disciples would remember it even after Jesus was raised, “zeal for your house will consume me.” We may be afraid to express it sometimes, but anger lets the world know exactly what matters to you most.
But anger alone doesn’t do much. It would be easy to state our anger like Hazel, crossing our arms and furrowing our brows, pronouncing “SO MAD” to whoever will listen. Instead, use that anger. Channel it, the way Jesus did, to the relentless proclamation of God’s love for the poor and outcast. Take the time to weave a whip of cords, methodically preparing how you will use the anger you’ve found against exploitation and oppression. Let it burn hot against injustice like the words of the prophets. Let zeal propel you to unwavering solidarity with the least of these as we work with the Spirit toward the kingdom of God.
Because sometimes there are things worth getting angry about, and it’s okay to get just so mad. Let it align with what makes God just so mad, and entrust your anger to God to make justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Let table-flipping fury fill you with the zeal for God’s mission to break the rod of injustice, and to loosen the bonds of oppression. Let the example of Jesus inspire you to condemn exploitation, cruelty, and oppression, and let your anger at these things motivate you to grasp the Spirit’s coattails and make justice and love known.
Let yourself be just so mad.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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