Summary: When we see injustice, we should be inspired to act in compassion, grace, and love as Jesus did.
In New York City this past week a taxi clipped a red Beetle while veering across four lanes of traffic to pick-up a fare. The two drivers got out to examine the damage. The cabbie was a short and rather feeble man; while the Beetle driver could aptly be described as a hulking giant. As the cabbie approached, the Beetle driver grabbed him by the shirt and hoisted him off the ground. There, at eye level with the cabbie’s feet dangling in the air, the Beetle owner began incessantly screaming at the cabbie, with every third sentence or so being, "This is your lucky day!"
Eventually, the cabbie was lowered back to solid ground, but then the Beetle driver asked, "Don’t you want to know why this is your lucky day?"
Before the cabbie could even get his mouth open to respond, the Beetle driver answered his own question, "Because I’m on my way to anger management class and I don’t dare show-up with blood on my shirt!"
I’m sure that each of us can think of times in our lives (probably several times) when we have been consumed by anger. Our faces get red; we clench our fists until our knuckles turn white, and in cartoon-like form we can almost feel the steam shooting out of our ears. Anger is a natural human response. No matter how hard we may try to avoid it, there are going to be times in our lives when we get angry. Even Jesus got angry; remember the episode in the Temple when he turned over the tables of the money changers? Then there was the time when the scribes and the Pharisees were watching to see if he would heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day. Jesus got angry on that occasion too. It is not wrong for us to get angry, but how we deal with that anger is important. Paul recognizes this fact, and in this passage from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul has offered some advice on anger and sound living – how we are to relate to one another in the midst of anger, when anger might be appropriate, and the things we should remove from our lives so as to avoid provoking anger or malice.
Paul’s concern is urging the church at Ephesus, and all of his readers, to live in unity as the body of Christ. Jesus Christ has come and brought a new order. We have this new covenant, which requires of us a new life; the “old ways” are no longer acceptable, Christ requires something new of the church. In the preceding passages, as we heard last week, Paul urges the Ephesians to “live a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called,” always striving to maintain the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace. Still, the concern is maintaining the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace, but now Paul is looking beyond the broad strokes of our call from God and speaking to the very specific actions and behaviors of people. First, Paul tells us, we should “[put] away falsehood” and speak the truth to one another. Also concerning our speech, Paul writes to the Ephesians that evil talk should not come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up. Again, Paul’s concern is the building up of the body of Christ. Thieves should give up stealing, and rather they should work honestly so that they will have something to give to the needy! Isn’t that a novel concept?!? Next, Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, which is a really fancy way of saying very generally, do not sin. In all things, we are to put aside our former behavior and behave like the new persons in Christ, which we are as his body, the church.
Then, finally in this passage, Paul speaks on the topic of anger, which comes up at different intervals throughout this section. We are instructed to put aside all bitterness, malice, and wrath, wrangling and slander. We should not let the sun set on our anger, nor should we dwell in our anger such that we hold grudges or in a spirit of vengefulness are led to sin. When our anger is selfish or uncontrolled, it becomes a sinful and hurtful thing that tears down and rips apart the body rather than building it up. Instead, we are to work for the good of all members of the body; to be tender and kind to one another, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us. That’s what all of these instructions from Paul are leading to, we are to imitate God; to offer ourselves in sacrifice as Christ sacrificed his own life, and above all to love as we are loved by God in Christ Jesus. And sometimes such love and compassion may even lead us to feel angry.