Don’t try to put Jesus on Valium
Valium can be a very useful prescription drug when it is necessary. It temporarily reduces anxiety before a medical procedure, and under a doctor’s care, calms unruly emotions. But we sometimes have the mistaken view that the pinnacle of the spiritual life is like a Valium high.
Flannery O’Connor noticed the tendency: “There is a question whether faith can or is supposed to be emotionally satisfying. I must say that the thought of everyone lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me. I believe that we are ultimately directed Godward but that this journey is often impeded by emotion.”
The sentiment derives from our tendency to reduce Jesus to a kind of sensitive New Age male, never judgmental and always inclusive. We often want our Jesus to be on Valium when dealing with our rebellion. But such an expectation cannot be reconciled to the Gospels unless we censor the anger of Jesus.
Let’s consider the behavior that sparks the Lord’s holy wrath.
Profaning the Temple
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the chairs of them that sold doves: And he saith to them: It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves. (Mt. 21:12-13)
It is common to think that the primary purpose of Mass is comfort, not worship. Recently, President Biden remarked: “I go to Mass and I say the rosary. I find it to be incredibly comforting.” Alas, given the President’s policies institutionalizing violations of the Fifth and Sixth Commandments, he would do better with the discomfort that comes with a conscience that stings.
Unfortunately, the more familiar we become with the Mass, the greater the temptation for us to use the assembly for purposes other than worship, such as socializing, fundraising, and commerce—or proving one’s devotion. These activities have their place outside the sanctuary, of course. But irreverence in the house of God sparks the anger of Jesus.
Teaching children to sin
Jesus said to his disciples, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Lk 17:1-2)
Does anyone doubt the anger of the Lord in response to the widespread cooperation with, and indifference to, the evil so-called “family-life education” in our government schools? With the passage of the so-called Equality Act (which would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under civil rights laws), the government will be mainlining perversion directly into our schools. It is better to face the anger of our rulers here and now than the anger of Jesus on the Day of Judgment.
Hostility to good deeds (hardness of heart)
The prophet Isaiah warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.”(Is. 5:20) The Pharisees watched to see whether Jesus would heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath so that they might accuse him. So Jesus asked, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” Then He “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mk 3:1-6)
An increasing proportion of the population—as reflected in our elected representatives—agree that opposition to abortion and various forms of perversion should be unlawful and not protected by conscience clauses. Beware. Hostility to good and holy acts sparks the righteous anger of Jesus.
Abusing the meaning of words
Even back in the time of Jesus, the leaders were spinning the news to their advantage: “You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? …I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Mt. 12:34-37) Jesus is the Word made flesh. He despises the lies associated with spin. We are accountable for our every word.
Disguising malice with outward appearances
In the Gospel of Matthew (cf. Mt. 23), Jesus denounces Scribes and Pharisees as a brood of vipers, blind fools, hypocrites, and sons of hell.
- They do not practice what they preach.
- They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear but don’t lift a finger to help.
- They do all their deeds to be seen by men.
- They love the place of honor and the best seats in the house.
- They make their converts twice as much children of hell as themselves.
- They tithe with a great display but neglect law, justice and mercy, and faith.
- They are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones, all uncleanness, extortion, and malice.
Our words and deeds should honestly reflect what is in our hearts. The moral integrity of Christian character reconciles our internal disposition to outward words and appearances. Keep this in mind the next time a Catholic holds up his rosary and claims he’s a devout Catholic.
Anger is a disturbing and troubling emotion, mostly because it is so easily abused. “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) The passion needs the firm harness of God’s grace.
But in response to evil, with the help of God’s grace and under the control of reason, anger is necessary. A well-directed, focused, and in-control outrage motivated by love is a healthy response to evil. By God’s design, just anger is an emotion that can impel us to carry through with good actions.
The righteous anger of Jesus teaches us that the spiritual life does not always bring the consolation of pleasant feelings, but sometimes a necessary prod to conversion and action.
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