There is a Chinese proverb: “Anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of the mind.” Back in the fall of ’92 the Klan obtained a permit to hold a rally in downtown Indianapolis. Then Archbishop Daniel Buechlein and other clergy of Indianapolis pleaded with people of good will to stay away from the rally and gather together for celebrations of hope instead. Some people argued that staying away from the rally was a form of cowardice and even a contribution to the Klan’s bigotry. In the confrontations between white supremacists and anti-racists groups, 7 people were hurt and 7 were arrested. The winds of anger were fanned by extremists on both sides. As is often the case, angry people find and encourage other angry people. “Anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of the mind.”
But, what is a person of conscience supposed to do when goodness, solidarity, and truth are under attack? What should a person do with feelings of outrage? How should we respond when we think that someone is trying to publicly embarrass us? I think our Lord’s example in a public debate can give us help in this area.
Jesus knew exactly what the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to do. He immediately recognized their oily flattery for what it was: a set-up. He had every right to lash out at them, expose, and embarrass them. But he met their viciousness with a calm dignity. In the end the religious authorities would take Jesus’ life, but on this day they could not take away his peace and his dignity. He turned aside their political trap with a simple teaching that everyone listening in the crowd would understand. “Give Caesar what belongs to him. Give God what belongs to him.” God has first claim on everything we have and are. Caesar must be content with whatever is left. The Pharisees and Herodians were left with their jaws hanging.
Psalm 118 speaks of a person who is surrounded by enemies as a man surrounded by bees. “They compassed me about like bees; my enemies blazed up like a fire among thorns. In the Lord’s name I crushed them.” I think our first reaction to bees is to flail, to strike out at them. It is like that with our enemies. We come out swinging. But consider the bee keeper. He, too, is surrounded by bees. How does he keep from being stung? When he approaches the hive the beekeeper moves slowly and deliberately. This keeps the bees confused but not angry.
Jesus never let the Pharisees trick him into making his ministry a battle of egos. Like the beekeeper who slowly and calmly approaches the hive, just so Jesus calmly and deliberately, with the assurance of trust in his Father and what God was calling him to do, passes through the tests and tricks of his enemies.
Someone once wrote of Abraham Lincoln: “In temper he was Earnest, yet controlled, frank, yet sufficiently guarded, patient, yet energetic, forgiving, yet just to himself; generous yet firm. His conscience was the strongest element of his nature. His affections were tender & warm. His whole nature was simple and sincere – he was pure, and then was himself.” Not a bad character reference, huh.
Are you feeling defensive and argumentative nowadays? Is there someone who is out to get you? Who makes you so angry you can’t see straight? Do the hurtful, insulting words of someone still rise like vinegar when you hear their name mentioned? Try taking that memory to Jesus; ask him to stretch out his hand and draw out the sting. Jesus can show us how to stand firm without picking a fight. Don’t let the wind of anger blow out the lamp of your mind.”