Loving people vs prophetic wrath

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, by Cecco del Caravaggio,1610.

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, by Cecco del Caravaggio,1610.

A tension I have often lived with the past few years is how Christians are to respond to evil and sinful structures in the world without becoming bitter and spiteful.

I struggled with it when we fought against the proposed development of a shooting range next door to Mount St Joseph Retreat House.

I struggle with it when I see pro-choice groups trying to redefine the meaning of life.

I still struggle with it when I face a large proportion of the population that chooses to be indifferent to the destruction of life, to the undermining of justice, to the ‘uglification’ of our country, to the rotting of our core values.

These experiences all stir strong feelings of anger, disgust and indignation inside me. They help me identify with the prophets of the Old Testament who voiced their indignation: “To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. But I am full of the wrath of the Lord, and I cannot hold it in. (Is 6:10-11).

This is an indignation which voices God’s own: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me… But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. (Amos 5: 21;24)”

If we expect change to happen, then we need to speak out against wrong and sinful structures with prophetic wrath

After all, even Jesus himself spoke sharply to the Pharisees and overturned the tables of the money-changers at the Temple.

But when the anger inside me starts to turn into hate, and into a feeling of superiority, of ‘us and them’, alarm bells start ringing asking me to discern whether this is the fruit of the bad spirit.

It was Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus and with Levi that made me question whether there can be another way of living this anger and indignation. With these two people, who were clearly corrupt sinners in their society, Jesus did not turn over the tables or hurl insults. He must have looked at them with love, a love that changed them. His anger at their lifestyle must have been turned into pity, just like a mother who is seeing her son walking the path of ruin.

Reflecting on the way Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, and yet encountered Zacchaeus and Levi, can offer a new challenge to Christians, especially in the reality we are living in Malta.

If we expect change to happen, then we need to speak out against wrong and sinful structures with prophetic wrath. But we need to keep living together and to keep up the dialogue, we need to keep loving the people, especially those whom we live with every day and whom we hold to be in error. It will certainly be this love that can change their hearts more than condemnation.

This attitude was crystallised by Peter Faber, in his approach to Lutherans at the time of the Reformation: “Anyone helping the heretics of this age must be careful to have great charity for them and to love them in truth, banishing from his soul all considerations which would tend to chill his esteem for them. We need to win their goodwill, so that they will love us and accord us a good place in their hearts.”

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