How to face anger and show mercy like Jesus Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Mar. 17, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

The Gospel reading of this past weekend (Jn 8:1-11) provides a portrait of Jesus in the face of intense anger and hatred and it leaves us with two key points: 1) how we might react to diffuse such situations, and 2) the importance and the inseparable nature of mercy and repentance.

Out to get Jesus

Now, the Gospel really shows us the Pharisees and the Scribes at their worst. They are out to get Jesus.

Let’s recall the story — some people have begun to question whether Jesus is the Messiah and He has therefore begun to get the Scribes and the Pharisees pretty upset.

They are ready to be done with Him, but first they need to trip Him up so as either to give them an airtight case against Him, or to arouse the ire of the people, or both.

They are out to get Jesus and so they bring before Him, in the temple, a woman who has been caught “in the very act of committing adultery.” They want to make it clear that there is no room for doubt — she’s been caught in the act.

This, in itself, demonstrates the irrational anger and hatred under which the Pharisees and Scribes are operating; they are willing to use the death of this woman — whom they want stoned to death — to get to Jesus.

They want to see what He will say — will He contravene what they hold to be the law? Or will He decree the death of someone in the midst of the temple, and in violation of the Roman law that the Jews cannot execute their own death sentences?

They are trying to trip Him up! Imagine hating someone so much, that in order to get at that person, you are willing to kill somebody else along the way. That’s what we have here, some vicious, hateful people.

A word about anger

Here I need to stop to mention a word about anger.

Anger is an emotion that is not, in and of itself, wrong — as we know, there is such a thing as “righteous anger.”

Jesus Himself has already demonstrated righteous anger in the cleansing of the temple (Jn 2:13-25).

Anger, however, must always be tempered by human reason, kept in check by the Natural Law, and not allowed to harden into resentment or hatred.

It is ok to be angry, for instance, about an injustice. But our passion for restoring justice must always be tempered by our reason and our ultimate conviction that good does not come out of acting purely on passions — it’s not a way for an individual to live, and it’s certainly not a recipe for a healthy society of people.

It seems to be the case for this group of Scribes and Pharisees that they have let their anger overcome their rationality.

At this point, these religious leaders have allowed their anger and resentment and hatred to draw them into the culture of death that surrounds them. It is more important for them that their anger against Jesus is acted upon, than that human life is respected.

Jesus’ response to anger

And what is Jesus’ reaction? He is going to give their nonsense right back to them, but He’s not going to yell and swear at them the way we hear nowadays on television (all this yelling and swearing!).

Jesus shows those who are being controlled by their passions and anger how unimpressed He is with them; and that they are making no impression upon Him whatsoever.

How do you show someone that you are really bored with what they are up to? Well, if it’s a nice day, you can get down on the ground and if there is sand there, you draw a little picture in the sand. It’s just like students in class when they are really bored with the teacher, they do all kinds of little drawings on the paper in front of them. Some of them turn out to be not bad artwork, but what they are saying is that if this teacher thinks that he’s getting to me, I’ll just prove that it doesn’t even matter to me that he’s in the room.

So Jesus counters the display of passionate hate — being willing to take human life to make a point, and He diffuses it. He says, “I’m just going to get down here and draw a little picture for myself in the sand and let you stand there and wonder what I am thinking.”

When they try to make their case that this woman is worthy of death, and when they try to pull Jesus into their web of hatred and of anger, Jesus hits them squarely between the eyes with love, saying, “Let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.” Then He simply bends down again and resumes His drawing.

And what happens? They all leave, beginning with the oldest and wisest. Nobody starts a riot. They’ve been put in their place by the Word made flesh, and they go home shame-faced with their tails between their legs to think about it.

But the woman is left! So, Jesus straightens up and He speaks to her directly, making clear that truly she is important to Him, “Has no one condemned you?” And she says, “No one, sir.”

And in this moment, we can see ourselves in this Year of Mercy. When it comes down to just Jesus and the woman we hear him say, “Neither do I condemn you.” He forgives her sins! Mercy is granted! But do not be tempted to think that Jesus is overlooking the sin of adultery. No, He is encountering this woman, who in accord with the “Law of Moses,” was due to be stoned, and He is offering mercy.

In the end, Jesus is the innocent one who will pay the price for this woman’s sin, but He demands repentance and conversion. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Neither do I condemn you, we’re all done here. Let me get the sand off my hands.” He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more!”

In receiving the grace of forgiveness, in receiving the grace of mercy, this woman also receives the grace of repentance. From what we know of Jesus, we can know that He is not only telling her to “go and sin no more,” but He is giving the grace to go and sin no more. And in order to receive the grace of mercy, she has to receive the grace of repentance!

What mercy means

Sometimes in the Year of Mercy, we can be tempted to get completely into a mode of, “mercy, mercy, mercy,” as if there were nothing else to it. There is no mercy without repentance.

The grace of mercy contains the grace of repentance, and the grace of repentance brings the grace of mercy.

So if one really receives the grace of mercy, one goes out and sins no more! Or, at the very least, one strives to be better.

So, in the first place, let’s not allow ourselves ever to get caught up in our own anger and hatred, or worse, the anger that others tell us we should be feeling. Even righteous anger must be governed by reason and by Christ’s example of love. And let us work to diffuse the moments of anger and hatred that we encounter, by letting them know that anger does not rule the way we reason through situations or dictate our actions.

And, let us recall that the grace of mercy and the grace of repentance are inseparable.

If someone says that the Lord had mercy on me, but he or she does not repent, he or she obviously has not received the grace of repentance, nor mercy!

Mercy and repentance can never be separated. We saw it in the story Jesus told of the Prodigal Son, and we saw Him underline it again as He set free the woman from her sin of adultery.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Praised be Jesus Christ!