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By Gretchen Crowder

One question has been weighing on my mind this week as I reflected on the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Lent: Am I comfortable with an emotional Jesus?

We know Jesus experienced emotions, a wide variety of them, in fact. After all, Jesus was human, and we humans, whether we like to admit it or not, are emotional beings. It’s an essential part of who we are. Our affect, the emotional movements of our heart, is what connects us to one another. It is how we experience love.

When Lazarus dies (John 11:35), Jesus weeps out of grief. In the Garden before his arrest (Mt 26:36-39), Jesus prays in agony. When Jerusalem rejects him (Luke 19:41-44), Jesus laments. When teaching his apostles about love (John 15:19), Jesus expresses joy. And in today’s Gospel (Jn 2:13-35) when he encounters the money changers in the temple, Jesus gets angry.

We see Jesus experience emotion over and over again throughout the Gospels, but how often do we pause to notice this particular facet of his humanity? Are we comfortable with an emotional Jesus? 

What about a Jesus who gets angry?

My favorite line in the Gospels is the one where Jesus weeps over the death of his friend. These two simple words in John – Jesus wept – make me feel so tangibly the immense love Jesus had for Lazarus, his family, and by extension, me. Jesus who knew intimately that there was more ahead than just this earthly life wept openly for a friend who had succumbed to his mortality. Pausing to take note of Jesus’ weeping gave me the permission I desired to fully experience my own moments of grief and allow my tears to fall freely.

In contrast, one of my least favorite stories in the Gospels is today’s story of Jesus getting angry. I don’t want to imagine Jesus with fists clenched and brow furrowed. I don’t want to imagine Jesus so angry that he upends tables and literally drives people out into the streets with a whip. For some reason, I am not okay with an angry Jesus.

I think there are a few reasons for that. The first is that anger in general makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable when I feel it (I don’t like experiencing how anger sometimes makes me want to… well… upend some tables) and uncomfortable when I feel it radiating from someone else in my direction. Obviously, I recognize that sometimes, often even, another’s anger has nothing to do with anything I have done. Other times, however, I know it does, and having to examine what I have done to make someone angry or frustrated at me? Well, it’s unpleasant, and that’s when it is just another person. Knowing that Jesus got angry and, therefore, could conceivably get angry at me? That is beyond unpleasant to imagine. But overall, I think I am most afraid that Jesus might just be inviting me to be angry right alongside him.

Despite all the reasons I am not okay with an angry Jesus, here I am with this Gospel passage before me, and Jesus is angry.

So, back to my original question:

Am I comfortable with an emotional Jesus? Maybe not.

Do I need to get more comfortable with an emotional Jesus? Yes, I think so.

If I want to have a real relationship with him, I think I have to work on this some more.

St. Ignatius taught that Jesus wants nothing more than to be in relationship with us. Even more than that, Ignatius taught that Jesus wants to be our friend. To be in a relationship, a friendship, with anyone means we have to have an emotional connection with them. Therefore, to be in friendship with Jesus means I have to have an emotional connection to him. It means that Jesus is going to have feelings about things I do or say, or roads I travel down. It means that sometimes Jesus will be overjoyed for and with me and sometimes Jesus is going to cry for and with me like he wept for and with his friends over Lazarus. It means that Jesus might get frustrated or angry when I dishonor our friendship. But it also means that Jesus might ask me to get angry right alongside him when others he loves are being victimized.

Like human friendships, maintaining my friendship with Jesus means that I cannot ignore any part of this spectrum of emotions Jesus wants to share with me. It also means I need to be attentive to my own emotions as well and what they are trying to tell me.

When I first noticed which Gospel I would be reflecting on this week, I have to admit I was disappointed. I thought about changing course from the previous reflections I have offered here and avoiding this Gospel completely. But then I realized that God was inviting me to this very story. Each time I returned to the story, I kept seeing Jesus standing amidst the big mess he just created in the temple looking right at me. There he stood, whip in his hand, saying in a pretty calm voice for someone so angry: “Why are YOU not angry yet?”

On February 20, Jesuit Superior General Arturo Sosa shared a video for World Social Justice day. In it, he implored us not to look away from the millions of people affected by injustice in the world today. The video coupled images with statistics and increasingly louder emotional music to draw in the viewers. After the loudest crescendo of the score had died down, he invited us to ponder the question: “What more must we do to take down the victims of injustice from the cross along with Jesus?”

Reading this Gospel and then watching this video, I just kept feeling Jesus’ eyes on me as he repeated over and over again: “Why are YOU not angry yet?”

It’s a good question. The anger that Jesus experienced in the temple was a righteous anger born of a desire for people to turn away from sin and from behavior that hurt one another. It was an emotional response connected to the deep love he has for all of us. Channeled in the right way, righteous anger can inflame our passions to work for real change. We just have to be open to letting it.

If Jesus weeping gave me permission to cry, then Jesus turning over the tables in the temple should give me permission to get angry enough to do something to “take the victims of injustice off the cross along with Jesus.” The question is – will I let it? Will I let the stories of my fellow human beings get to me?

Will you let them get to you? Will we allow them to inflame our passionate zeal to work for real change?

Could this be the return of love Jesus is looking for from us this Lenten season?

Prayer Suggestion 

Ignatius taught that paying attention to our emotions is an essential part of prayer. Paying attention to our emotions and reflecting on what they might be telling us is key to coming to know who we are and who God is inviting us to be. Pray with this video reflection on the second six Stations of the Cross based on information from Fr. Sosa’s World Day of Social Justice video throughout this week. Pay close attention to the emotions that come to the surface for you. Write them down and ask God to help you figure out what your heart is trying to tell you. Perhaps do one station a day to give more time to reflect on each question offered.

 

Gretchen Crowder

Gretchen Crowder wrote Leaning into our Belovedness, an introduction to her theme this Lent. Full of inspiration and prayer suggestions, you can download it as a PDF to pray with throughout the Lenten season. Gretchen is a campus minister and educator at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, as well as a writer, retreat director and podcaster. You can find her at gretchencrowder.com and on Loved As You Are: An Ignatian Podcast, available anywhere you get your podcasts.