Monday, January 23, 2012

Jesus' Emotions in Mark 3:5

There is always an inherent danger of downplaying, dismissing, or ignoring passages that speak of Jesus' emotions in the Gospels. One reason for this, I believe, is that fear in reading Jesus this way will somehow diminish our view of him. If we allow that Jesus experiences many of the same emotions that we all do, then can we really continue to hold our esteemed view of him as Son of God? Further, we in the church are suspicious of 'emotionalism'.  By 'emotionalism' I mean outward displays of emotion that lack scriptural foundation, and direction and are entirely concerned with the self. We see this all the time. One needs to look no further than some of the ministry programs that populate the airwaves. Anyway, I digress...

Despite being just one verse, Mark 3:5 captures quite a bit of emotion. The scene is set up this way: Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath, with the Pharisees watching as he encounters a man with a withered hand. This is a trap! The Pharisees cannot wait to catch Jesus in a violation of the Sabbath (3:2). Jesus tells the man with the feeble hand to come stand in front of him (3:3), and poignantly asks the Pharisees, "Is it permitted on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill?" (3:4) Either way they answer, the Pharisees are trapped, so they respond in utter silence (3:4). This question is filled with irony as the Pharisees in v.6 violate the worst of Sabbath prohibitions, indeed of all the Law, as they, along with the Herodians plot to kill Jesus (3:6)!

Returning to 3:5, it reads: "He looked around at them in anger (μετʼ ὀργῆς) and, deeply distressed (συλλυπούμενος) at their stubborn hearts, (πώρωσις τῆς καρδίας) said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored (NIV; italics mine)." Let's take a look at these emotional-laden terms one at a time.  First, this is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus' anger is described in terms of ὀργή (although see the text critical issue at Mk 1:41). Jesus' ὀργή is directed at the silence of the Pharisees. As Edwards states:
Jesus’ anger is a description of righteous indignation. The greatest enemy of divine love and justice is not opposition, not even malice, but hardness of heart and indifference to divine grace, to which not even disciples of Jesus are immune. (James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark [PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002]), 101.
The next description of Jesus' emotions is the rare term συλλυπέω, so rare in fact, that this is the only occurrence in the entire NT. The LXX records this term merely twice (Ps 68:21 [MT: 69:20]; Isa 51:19), both with the connotations of  'grief'. Aristotle in his treatise on 'friendship' uses the infinitive form of the verb this way:

The very seeing of one’s friends is pleasant, especially if one is in adversity, and becomes a safeguard against grief (for a friend tends to comfort us both by the sight of him and by his words, if he is tactful, since he knows our character and the things that please or pain us); but to see him pained at our misfortunes is painful; for every one shuns being a cause of pain to his friends. For this reason people of a manly nature guard against making their friends grieve (συλλυπεῖν) with them... (Nichomachean Ethics; 1171b7; Trans. W.D. Ross in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, Vol.2 [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984]), 151.
For Aristotle then, συλλυπέω is to be avoided at all costs. For Jesus, this grief along with the anger that he displays is complementary; his anger (ὀργή) is outwardly displayed, while his grief (συλλυπέω) is more inwardly manifested and is aimed at the Pharisees stubbornness as demonstrated by their silence. Their silence indicts them in their unwillingness to admit that healing (i.e. 'doing good') is permissible on the Sabbath (3:3).

Last, the reference to the Pharisees 'hard hearts' (πώρωσις τῆς καρδίας) is utilized in NT parlance to refer to "Israel’s failure to recognise Jesus as their Messiah (Rom. 11:7, 25; 2 Cor. 3:14; Jn. 12:40, citing Is. 6:10), but on two other occasions by Mark to describe the disciples’ failure to appreciate the significance of Jesus’ miracles (6:52; 8:17)." ( R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark [NICGNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,  2002]), 150-51. One should also be aware of this common theme found in the OT, particularly with regard to Pharaoh's attitude  toward Israel and Moses (Exod 4:21; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7[2x], 34; 10:1; 11:10; 14:4,8; cf. 1 Sam 6:6).

Wrapping up this post, it seems to me that Jesus' flash of anger towards the Pharisees stands in stark contrast to the deep-seated grief he feels toward the attitude of the Pharisees. This grief Jesus displays is matched only by the depth of callousness the Pharisees evince by their hard hearts. They are blinded to their own hypocrisy (3:6) and their inability to discern what the spirit of the Sabbath entails, namely, the good (3:4).

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