Is it good or bad to be mad?
It’s bad, right? Anger is bad. Always. Paul says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Eph 4:31, emphasis added). He says get rid of it all … not most of it. Not the worst of it. All of it.
Case closed, right? Anger is bad.
Except that Jesus gets angry, at least one and a half times. Let me point you to Mark 1:
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:40-45)
This is a passage that raises some worthy questions: Why keep it a secret? Why didn’t the guy do what Jesus told him? Why don’t we do what Jesus tells us? All good questions. But I want to focus on verse 41 (the second paragraph in the passage above).
There is a pretty fascinating textual variation at the beginning of that verse. If you are reading the ESV or NRSV, it says that after he asks to be healed, Jesus “had pity on” the man. If you are reading an NIV from the 1980s, it says that Jesus was “filled with compassion.” But if you are reading a new NIV, it says he was “indignant.” If you are reading the CEB, he is “incensed.”
Well, which is it? We don’t know. When Jesus sees and hears this man, he is either compassionate or angry.
So, for the moment, we’ll count this as a half. To help us figure out which word is best here, let’s look at the one time Jesus is definitely mad:
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)
Let’s use this second example as a test case for when anger might be right or even righteous, and also as a tool to help us make the best translation decision for Mark 1. First of all, we’d have to say that anger should be rare. Jesus interacts with a ton of people, who are cruel, mean, and violent, and we only see him getting mad one and a half times (at most). Anger should be rare.
Second, your anger shouldn’t be about you. These religious guys in Mark 3 are out to get Jesus, but that’s not what bothers him. He’s bothered because, in the process, they are going to run over an innocent man who cannot defend himself. In Mark 1, if Jesus is angry, he’s not offended by the man who asks to be healed. That man shows faith that clearly impresses Jesus. No, he’s mad that a man like that would suffer like this. He’s mad for the man, not at the man. Jesus’s anger is never about Jesus.
Finally, what makes Jesus’s anger righteous in both stories, is its application. Neither story ends with Jesus railing against someone. They both end with Jesus fixing the problem.
So, anger should be rare, it shouldn’t be about you, and it should lead you to do something positive.
You know what the best test of our anger as individuals and churches might be? Here’s a possible answer: If someone wrote a story about it, exchanged the word compassion for anger, and the story ended the same way—then that would be a good test. If the actual word used in the story didn’t really matter.
Maybe it doesn’t matter which word shows up in your Bible in Mark 1:41. The anger of Jesus looks just like the compassion of Jesus.
Hopefully the same can be said of us.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.