March 4: Listening in the Midst of Anger


Lenten Devotion: Listening in the Midst of Anger

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Listening in the Midst of Anger
John 2:13-22

I struggle with this passage.  I remember how my Sunday school teachers emphasized Christ’s anger towards the money changers and merchants who were exploiting outside the temple.  When I was a child, this story of Christ was both terrifying and confusing.  You see, I grew up with a father who reacted in anger at the slightest provocation.  We walked on eggshells around him because we were afraid of his booming voice, of being lectured for hours, of spankings and the possibility of household items being broken in his midst.  I remember my father lecturing that “righteous anger” was “Biblical.”

In CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), I processed the impact of my childhood on how I avoid anger in myself and others.  Before CPE, I avoided being angry because I knew how it felt to be around an angry person.  During CPE, I learned how to tenderly hold my anger and give it the voice it needed rather than bottling it up.  Also, I learned how to sit with angry patients or angry family members and tenderly hold their anger.  It took practice to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of anger.  It took even more practice to be able to learn how to invite the feelings of anger out rather than feel powerless as a clinician.

My response to my first intensely angry patient was almost comical.  My patient told me the abbreviated version of his story — he had a painful infection in his foot, he had lifelong severe depression, he was a retired psychotherapist, and he was taking care of his elderly father—he concluded by saying in a truly ticked-off and angry tone, “And there is nothing you can do to help me, chaplain.”  I said, “Ok, I hear you.  I will leave now since there is nothing I can do.”  I was completely triggered.  In retrospect, I wish I had the fortitude to say, “I hear you. You’re right.  I cannot fix anything, but I can listen to everything you are facing right now.”

The place I find myself with this story of Christ is that I am hesitant to even listen because anger has always been the lens through which I read this text.  But when I think about the agenda of the gospel writers, since this narrative occurs with nuances in all four of the gospels, I want to listen for the importance of this story.  Christ’s death and resurrection were of central importance for the gospel writers.  And this passage, at least in the gospel of John, foreshadows Christ’s death and resurrection.

Not only foreshadowing, but the author also writes, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:22).  This episode where Christ clears the temple and foreshadows his death and resurrection also speaks powerfully to the faith of the disciples.  Perhaps the temple clearing was important in establishing Christ’s authority for the disciples, and perhaps it is appropriate to read the story through the lens of anger.  But what struck me this Lenten season is that the disciples remembered what Christ said and believed.  May we also remember and believe, and may our old lenses be transformed into new this Lenten season.

Becca Rhodes Sandness
SFTS MDiv Senior