Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christ the tiger

This interesting post from the  i-Benedictine blog asks whether we live in a society which is too angry for its own good. We do live in times when instantaneous comment on events can be immoderate and show a lack of wider awareness or a consideration of different perspectives or other’s feelings. However, anger is not necessarily always a negative or an unchristian emotion and I think we have to avoid straying into the trap of thinking that Christianity does not or cannot involve a range of emotional responses. In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist presents Christ in terms that are far from sweet and gentle. John says that Christ will come with a “winnowing fork in his hand to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”, and Jesus was certainly more than capable of anger, he overturned the money tables in the temple and spoke out when he saw injustice – and when he saw religious abuse and narrowness he used immoderate terms such as “brood of vipers” and “whited sepulchres.” Today’s reading brought to mind for me a quote from T.S.Eliot’s poem Gerontion,

In the juvenescence of the year, came Christ the tiger.”

So what are we to make of a Saviour who was not afraid to show anger and who wields a winnowing fork? The Catholic Church proclaimed anger to be one of the deadly sins, yet it is an emotion that is not wrong in itself but only in how we deal with it. It is true to say, in fact, that when we do not acknowledge anger then it can cause us most harm. We need to understand that there is a time for anger just as there is a time for forgiveness. Anger which is suppressed can ultimately boil over in irrational and excessive rage, anger which is not controlled can lead to hatred and violence, anger which we hold on to but feel impotent in the face of can cause us despair and bitterness. Anger which is not well managed is destructive to ourselves and others.

I think it is important to acknowledge anger as this can in itself be healing, then we need to decide whether we can use our anger in productive ways to bring about change or whether, if the situation is outside of our control, we will ultimately have to let that anger go. I love this hymn written by John Bell of the Iona community, and I don’t know why churches don’t sing this more often, because it gives us a challenging and realistic picture of a Christ who could encompass the extremes of emotion – from righteous anger to a healing compassion and tells us that, in this Advent season, that he came to be with us fully, and to rage as well as to suffer.
( the lyrics are so meaningful that I have posted them below.)

Jesus Christ is waiting,

Waiting in the streets
No one is his neighbour
All alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger,
Fit to wait on you.

Jesus Christ is raging,
Raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals
And real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes
Let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing,
Healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer,
Touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
Let my care be active,
Healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing,
Dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred
He, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard
Let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling,
Calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus,
Let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me;
I will follow you.


  1. Is sighting anger as a deadly sin to Catholicism, necessary?

  2. Do you mean "citing"? It's not an anti-Catholic point if that is what you mean?