He entered again into the synagogue, and there was a man there who had his hand withered. They watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day, that they might accuse him. He said to the man who had his hand withered, "Stand up." He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? To save a life, or to kill?" But they were silent. When he had looked around at them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts, he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored as healthy as the other. The Pharisees went out, and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him. (Mark 3:1-6)
Studies of the human brain and how we experience emotions have led brain scientists to identify six major negative emotions people experience that can cause problems if one does not learn to recover from those emotions. These same studies have concluded that the normal state the brain is designed to be in is what they have chose to label 'joy.' This joy is not referring to happiness as many assume, but rather describes being bonded with another mind/heart, with someone is glad to be with you.
This joy is not just an incidental emotion that's nice to experience once in awhile. Rather, it has been observed that joy (the experience of knowing someone genuinely wants to be with you) is the most basic and intense craving the human brain has. This desire lies at the deepest levels of subconsciousness and involves the bonding circuits that connect us deeply with another person.
Joy is far greater than good feelings or happiness as it involves someone who really wants to be with you no matter what feelings you are having or what is going on in your life. I experienced this personally during a most intense day of massive shame when a couple chose to stay with us long after everyone else left us. They then took us to their home to care for us in the middle of the night, comfort us and just be there for us. I will never forget the enormous impact that had on me even though happiness was about as far away from us as it could be. I experienced joy in the middle of shame which prompted me to hope I would do the same for someone else should the chance ever come my way.
What does this have to do with anger and Jesus? It has a great deal to do with it, for living life in the mindset of joy means you don't lose sight of your true identity and thus know how to act like yourself no matter what emotion you find yourself experiencing. Having someone who knows you well and loves you unconditionally provides a person stability and perspective and an anchor so that you can avoid doing something crazy or out of character because of the intensity of some negative emotion.
Because Jesus lived His entire human life on earth in constant touch with His Father, and because He anchored Himself in His Father's love every morning, He was able to model how to avoid becoming overwhelmed by any negative emotion or experience. Jesus demonstrated how to act like ourselves no matter what circumstances are like or what emotion may be taking over our feelings. So to learn how to act out our true identity given to us by Jesus, we may examine times in the life of Jesus to discover what He did when He experienced those same emotions that we experience.
Interestingly there is only one documented instance in the gospel stories that record that Jesus got angry. Most people assume He was angry when He cleansed the temple, but the gospel writers never mention that fact. While I will not argue that it was possible, there is only one story recording that Jesus became angry and that is the one in the passage above. Thus this story can serve as the model for how we might learn how to relate to the emotion of anger like Jesus related to it.
Keep in mind that Jesus was constantly being harassed and hounded, facing what we might call 'sting operations' intended to get Him into traps in order to discredit His ministry and diminish His effectiveness. Religious leaders were jealous and feeling threatened by Jesus' popularity and were incensed over His teachings and example of a loving God. The God Jesus presented to the world was scandalous so far as their opinions were concerned, because if God were like Jesus then their entire system of power and control over people based on fear of God would collapse if people took Jesus too seriously. This is why the leaders were becoming ever more desperate to find any way to undermine His message and destroy His influence before their entire social structure was destroyed.
Jesus realized quickly what was transpiring when He walked into this synagogue. He knew this was another setup intended to discredit Him by making Him out to be a lawbreaker over the Sabbath issue. The Jews for whatever reason had classified healing people as an act of working, and since work was considered forbidden by God at any time on the Sabbath day, if they could publicly catch Him healing someone on the Sabbath they could instantly declare Him a lawbreaker and invalidate His claims to represent God with authority. They were confident that this would work, for they knew Jesus well enough to know that His intense compassion would not allow Him to ignore a man with a withered hand, and they had arranged the whole set-up with him being there just for this purpose.
Jesus never allowed fear to affect His own thinking in any of these sting operations against Him. This was the first thing we can learn, for fear can paralyze the mind and cut off access to our sense of identity and rob us of peace and creativity. Because Jesus kept a constant connection open with His Father through the Spirit, He was not intimidated in the least by this trap. In fact, we find in this story is that the cause of His anger was very different from what we might have had if we found ourselves in that situation. It would be easy for us to become angry because we might feel resentful over people conspiring to snare us in order to publicly humiliate us and destroy our effectiveness and ruin our reputation. Yet that is never what we find Jesus doing, for His love was just as intense for His worst enemies as was His compassion for those suffering with physical ailments.
Mark says that He looked around at them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts. What is important is that Jesus was furious, not just because they were using this poor man's plight as a means of seeking to ensnare Him, but rather because their dark views of our loving Father was damaging their own hearts. Jesus was experiencing an anger rooted in grief, not because He was feeling offended. That is a point we seldom contemplate whenever we try to justify our own bouts of anger. Too often our anger has more to do with being offended over how people are treating us instead of feeling grief for what they are doing to themselves.
Just as importantly we need to see how Jesus handled His emotion of anger in this story. Because this is the only instance where we can be certain He got angry, how did He express or act out His anger?
Well, let me first ask another question for context. What would Jesus do if He had not been angry?
This is the key issue not just for the negative emotion of anger but about any experience with any emotion. How would Jesus act like Himself if He were not experiencing this intense emotion? This applies to shame, fear, anger or any other. When He was free of any negative emotion but in the very same circumstance, what would it look like to act like Himself? This would mean acting out His true identity without the effect of any negative emotion.
I don't think there could be any other reasonable answer than that if Jesus were not angry, He most likely would heal this man's withered hand, Sabbath or no. So the question then follows, did Jesus act any differently while experiencing intense anger than He would were He just feeling average? And the answer is clear – He would have acted exactly the same with or without the negative emotion.
This is very important and is the lesson we need to take to any other instance of Jesus' life in order to make sense of why He acted the way He did under various circumstances. For instance, if in fact Jesus might have been feeling anger while cleansing the temple, would He have done the exact same things if He had not been feeling intensely, never mind what emotions He may have had at the time? Because the right thing to do is to always act like our true self, our true identity given us by God, the important thing to learn is how Jesus example can educate us as to how we may respond in any situation instead of forgetting who we are momentarily and acting out of character only to later have deep regrets.
This is important, because Jesus is our example of how to always act like our true self at all times. It is important to realize that Jesus did not suppress His emotions but rather demonstrated how to act like Himself while allowing His natural emotions to be experienced without denying or suppressing them. Negative emotions are not sin or else Jesus would have sinned by allowing Himself to experience them. Emotions are simply physical feelings created by unique mixtures of internal chemicals prompted by the brain in response to what is going on in our thinking. Thus emotions are merely symptoms and never have to be a cause for doing anything differently.
However, we often allow emotions to so dominate our thinking that we sometimes make choices based on our feelings rather than remembering who we are outside of what we are feeling. Jesus never did this, yet He allowed Himself to fully experience negative feelings which means He could know how each of us feels in any circumstances.
For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
...be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members of one another. "Be angry, and don't sin." Don't let the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:23-27)