Almost 15 years ago, St. John Paul II surprised the Catholic world by introducing a new set of mysteries to the Rosary. In case you’re unfamiliar with the tradition, there are certain events from the lives of Mary and Jesus that you can meditate on as you recite the Rosary. First are the joyful mysteries, like the Annunciation and the Visitation; then the sorrowful mysteries, like the Crucifixion; and finally, the glorious mysteries, like the Assumption of Mary. In 2002 Pope John Paul added a set called the luminous mysteries, or mysteries of light, which focus mainly on Jesus’ public ministry, like the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the Wedding Feast at Cana.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that we could add some other events from Jesus’ life: all the times he gets angry.
The number of times Jesus gets angry in the Gospels is considerable. At one point, he says to the people around him, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (Mt 17:17; Lk 9:41) When Peter says Jesus shouldn’t have to suffer, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33). At another point in the Gospels, Jesus is hungry and approaches a fig tree. When he finds no fruit, he curses the poor tree, which promptly withers and dies. (Mk 11:12-14, 20-25; Mt 21:18-22). And in perhaps the most vivid depiction of Jesus’ anger, included in all four Gospels, he tosses the money changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem, going so far as to make a “whip of cords” for the purpose (Mk 11:15–19; Mt 21:12–17, 23-27; Lk 19:45–48 and 20:1–8; Jn 2:13–22), though one way to read the Greek text of the story known as the “Cleansing of the Temple” is that he used the whip simply to drive out the sheep and the oxen from the Temple precincts.
There are so many times Jesus shows anger that we could legitimately add another series of mysteries to the Rosary, in addition to the joyful, the sorrowful, the glorious and the luminous. We could call them the “furious mysteries.”
Some Christians have a hard time with Jesus’ anger. It’s a mystery to them. The cleansing of the Temple can be particularly disturbing, given its physical depiction of anger. Others find this a wonderfully bracing passage. It shows that Jesus is human—passionate. No matter what you think about this passage, you have to agree: this is not a bland, unthreatening, boring Jesus.
Unfortunately, some Christians use that particular incident as an excuse for violence, for judging other people, for being rude or simply acting like a jerk. When confronted with opposition, they’ll strike back and say, “Well, I’m angry just like Jesus was in the Temple, and I’m overturning the tables!” But when people oppose you, it may not mean you’re a prophet like Jesus. It may just mean that you’re wrong.
These passages, then, can be mysterious. So let’s examine Jesus’ anger.
First, there’s nothing sinful about being angry. Yes, anger is one of the seven deadly sins, but I think that has to do more with unbridled anger, free-floating anger, violent anger. Anger is a natural human emotion. If you don’t get angry once in a while, you’re not human.
The questions are, Why are you angry? and What do you do with it? In the Gospels Jesus is never angry on behalf of himself. At the Crucifixion, for example, he does not get angry at those who are executing him. He forgives them. Earlier in the Passion narratives, he utters not a word when he is mocked and spat upon by the soldiers. He says nothing in his defense. If there was ever a time for him to get angry, it would be then. Rather, Jesus’ anger is always on behalf of others.
Jesus’ anger is a righteous anger. Ours is more frequently of the selfish type, the result of an offense to ourselves. Of course we need a healthy love of self and a care for the self. So sometimes a strong response to injustice is justified. On the other hand, if someone cuts in line at the drug store, that does not mean you need to punch the person in the face. So the questions are: Where is the anger coming from? What is the most Christian response?
In the end, the furious mysteries may not be so mysterious. Jesus’ anger is not so hard to understand. Jesus is human. Anger is a natural part of life. And his anger is a righteous anger. It’s good for us to remember all those things so that even if we feel like it, we may decide that those tables do not need to be turned over after all.