One Sunday as the minister was greeting his parishioners on their way out of church; a woman stopped in front of him and began crying. She said, “Father, my husband, John died last night!” The minister was shocked and said, “Oh, dear I am sorry! This was really unexpected! I am again so sorry.” The minister was at a loss for words, “Uhm, Did, did he have any last requests?” The woman sniffled and said, “Yes. He said, ‘Mary, please put down the gun.’”
You know we hear about people who have extreme anger problems. For example we hear about people who have so much road rage that they will follow another car to its home and then shoot the driver. We hear about individuals with that sort of anger problem. But in today’s reading it seems as though the entire congregation has an anger problem!
When you do when you get angry, how do you react? This is an appropriate question for us to ask ourselves in light of today’s gospel. At first glance it is an odd reading isn’t it? We start off with Jesus coming to his hometown and speaking in the synagogue. At first they were not upset. At first they liked what they heard. But then, after Jesus spoke a bit longer, not much longer, it says, “They were all filled with rage. They got up and drove him out of the town and were going to throw him off the cliff. They were angry enough to kill Jesus. All of them apparently, they all want Jesus thrown off the cliff and broken into pieces upon the rocks at the bottom.
So why did what Jesus say make them so angry? He starts off you recall, by making the claim that he was the fulfillment to this Scripture in Isaiah. That is, he was the anointed one, the Messiah. They start off with a good feeling about it. Jesus was a powerful speaker. He clearly had an amazingly charismatic personality. But then, they stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute, this is Joseph’s son, right? The implication is he cannot be that important. We know him, we know his father and as it notes in Mark’s gospel they also say, we know his mother, brothers and sisters. Jesus probably nods his head and replies, “No doubt you want me to prove my claims by doing those miracles you heard that I did in Capernaum. In Elijah’s time, there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah only helped this one widow in Sidon. And later in the time of the prophet Elisha, there were a lot of lepers in Israel, but Elisha only healed a Syrian leper. What was the implication that Jesus was making? Jesus was referencing a time when the nation Israel was under judgment from God for turning away from God and God’s prophets were helping people but not people who were Jews. It made the people of Nazareth very angry to hear this. Jesus was implying that not only was he going to help people outside of Nazareth, but the reason he was going to do so was because the people of Nazareth were rejecting God by rejecting him and by living disobedient lives. He was equating them with the Israelites who had worshipped the Baals when wicked King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel were ruling Israel.
They were angry enough to kill and they tried to kill Jesus; they tried to kill the God-man which of course they couldn’t do. This brings us back to our first question. What do you or I do when we get angry and particularly what do we do when we get angry at God when God does or allows something that really upsets us? Scripture gives us examples of right responses and wrong responses.
Our first reading was from Jeremiah. God gave him a message for Israel. The Israelites didn’t like his messages either. And although they didn’t kill him there were many people who wanted to. Instead they put him in stocks and then another time put him in a well where he almost died. Contrast him with Jonah who went, reluctantly, to Nineveh and preached to them that God was going to destroy their city because of their evil ways. They did not get mad at Jonah; instead they took his message very seriously and repented. And God spared the city. It was incredible.
We can look at Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus was very sick and they sent to Jesus for him to come and heal him. Jesus ignored their request and Lazarus died. When Jesus did come to Bethany, note the response of the sisters. They both acknowledged that if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died. They both were grieving. But we don’t see them angry or screaming or yelling at Jesus. They didn’t understand why he had done what he had done yet they still believed in him and trusted him.
The Apostle Paul apparently had some sort of disfiguring eye disease that not only was distracting, but it was painful as well. Paul prays for healing. God doesn’t respond at all to him. Paul prays again. Again, there is no reply from God. Paul prays again; God says, “No, my grace is enough for you. For my strength is made complete through your weakness.” So what does Paul do? Paul responds with, “Ok, it’s all good then.”
How do you and I react when bad things happen? How do we react when God points his finger at us and lets us know we need to change our behavior r when He says ‘No’ to our prayers? When this happens, we need to understand first that God really does love us. Things that happen to us or around us we may not understand or like, but we as believers need to remember that God loves us. We know this because God sent his only Son to die for us so that we could be reconciled to him and so we can be in relationship with him.
We have options on how to react when we are frustrated with things that have happened. We can turn our backs on God and go on alone; or we can turn to God like Martha and Mary. When confronted with our sins we can change our bad behavior like those people in Nineveh or we can be really angry and can try, like the people of Nazareth to throw God off a cliff. But who do we really hurt? We see that after this event, Jesus does not return to Nazareth. They miss out!
What is the lesson for us here in this gospel? It is not as though things will always go well for us, is it? No! Things will happen to us and around us that will upset us. But when we are frustrated or angry we need to turn to God in our sadness, or anger, or frustration and cry to him like the Mary and Martha did or the Psalmist does in the Psalms and ask Him for help on how to deal with this loss. We can ask him for help on how to deal with his ‘no’ to our prayers. And God will help us because he does love us! Amen