About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Is It OK to Get Mad at the Bad Stuff?

Mark 1:21-28
“Is It OK to Get Mad at the Bad Stuff?”
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church PCUSA
Sunday, January 29, 2006

In the past Sundays, we’ve talked about evangelism. Jesus calling the fishermen. What’s Jesus about? What’s the church about? Come and see. We’ve talked about our response to Christ’s call. Jesus says, “Follow me.” Do we drop everything and follow him? This week, the scripture points us to the next steps of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has sparked interest from some fishermen, they’ve become his followers – now what?

The Bible isn’t just a story that happened long ago. It’s OUR book, too. So, If we’re people who’ve had our interest sparked in Jesus, if we’ve decided to answer his call (whatever our particular calling might be) – we’re interested, we’ve answered… now what? That’s where we pick up the story today. What IS our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ? What do we say and what do we do?


The gospel, according to Mark’s telling, is very short. A lot of people think Mark’s gospel was the first one written, partly because it IS so short. Like good fishermen’s tales, the gospel grows every time it’s retold, getting longer in Matthew and Luke’s telling, and really taking off in John. Mark’s gospel is short in length; it’s also very short on details. We get a brief sketch of a scene like the one in today’s lesson. In Capernaum, on the Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and taught. Okay. It’s Jesus, so that’s not exactly shocking. We’d expect him to be in worship and teaching. And he was teaching… what? What was his sermon about? What did he tell his followers? Survey says… nothing. It was “astounding.” It was “authoritative.” Hello, it’s Jesus. We’d expect that. But what did he say??? Now, I know parchment was hard to come by, and ink was probably more expensive for Mark than it is even for us in those little ink cartridges that cost as much as the printer. (Go figure.) But don’t you think Mark could have included at least a sentence or two of this astounding, authoritative teaching Jesus was doing? It’s like, he remembers the sermon was really good, but two minutes out the door, he can’t recall a word of it.
I imagine him going home to Mrs. Mark.
“How was the service today, Mark?”
“It was good.”
“How was the sermon?”
“Oh, it was real good.”
“Well, what’d the preacher preach on?”
“Um… God. And it was good. God is good.”
“I see. Anything else happen?”
“Well, you should’a seen what happened after we let out. There was this fella who started yelling and making a scene and then…”
Mark can’t remember the sermon, but he sure does remember what happened in the parking lot. And while news of Jesus’ astounding, authoritative teaching may have spread throughout Galilee, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts what really spread was the story that made it to the Bible, the story of what happened in the parking lot.

Jesus got mad. Jesus became really, really annoyed at the unclean spirited man who kept shouting at him. And while the genteel scholars who translate the Bible into English have Jesus saying the genteel and scholarly, “Be silent, and come out of him,” the real words were a lot more like what you’d hear in the parking lot than the sanctuary. Our Lord just goes off on the guy, or more precisely, his unclean spirit. Yes, after gathering the disciples, after calling them to follow him, Jesus teaches and preaches. We’d expect that. But what Jesus also does, and what people remembered about him, was that he got mad. Jesus got sick and tired of the evil he was seeing, and called it for what it was.

So, as followers of Jesus Christ, is that what we’re supposed to do? Are we supposed to get mad at the bad stuff? Are we supposed to march right up to evil, whatever form it takes, and shout it out? Is Jesus giving us license here, to just go off on whatever evil spirits are driving us nuts?

Everybody gets mad. The difference is, some people feel guilty about it. They get mad, but they know Jesus says to love your enemies. So these people just hold the anger in, keep on smiling, and wait for God to smite the evil-doing yada-yada-yadas. People remember Jesus getting mad at the money changers and chasing them out of the temple, but otherwise we usually have this vision of him as “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” meek and mild. The truth is, in the Gospel According to Mark, Jesus is really kinda grouchy. He just doesn’t have any patience for evil or unclean spirits. From the beginning, he’s ready to shout them out.

What really, really irritates you? For me, it’s waiting. I can’t stand waiting in lines at places at that are supposed to have “instant” service. Especially drive-throughs. They’re supposed to be “Drive Throughs,” not “Sit Forevers.” I’ll be getting some fast food (which, I know is neither fast nor food), I’ll have placed my order, I can see the window, and the three cars in front of me aren’t moving an inch. I know, rationally, that it’s nobody in particular’s fault, but I’m ready to see some smiting. But here’s the thing. I’ll sit there and get so righteously worked up because I’m not being served at light speed, and all the while, I’ll be listening to the news on the radio. And the news will play reports of soldiers being killed in Iraq. Or earthquake victims dying in the Himalayan winter. Or how the levee breaks in New Orleans might have been avoided if somebody had paid attention. And that stuff passes in one ear and out the other. Overpowered by the grumbling of my own fat stomach. And while I might feel ready to just go off on the girl in the drive-through window, or even at God for not giving us enough hours in the day… the one I’m really mad at is myself. Truth be told, I’m mad at myself – for not better managing my schedule, or my diet, or my growling stomach. And the truly evil things in the world, the things that ought to get me worked up, go in one ear and out the other. So, yes, Jesus in the Bible is willing to go off on evil spirits. But we aren’t Jesus. We’re closer to the ones WITH the evil spirits. So if we read the Bible as giving not us, but Jesus license to get mad, we’d better duck.


So, Jesus got mad at the bad stuff. What does that mean for us? Is he giving his disciples license to follow his example? Or is he giving unclean people license to be his disciples?

It’s always best to interpret scripture with scripture. Looking at today’s scripture it’s possible to interpret it as a classing meeting between good and evil. Jesus, the astounding and authoritative teacher of the good, meets the unclean and annoying. That’s what gospel-writer Mark and the Bible remember, and pass along to us. Good and loving on the one side, evil and resistant on the other. Now, remember this confrontation is, as Mark tells it, Jesus’ first public act of ministry. So to understand it, it would make sense to go back to the Bible’s first meeting of good and evil.

Back in Genesis, in the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve get in trouble for eating the forbidden fruit. God put the tree in the middle of the garden and made the fruit look really attractive, so you have to wonder if this wasn’t trouble waiting to happen. We all remember what happened – the curious woman gave the fruit to the gullible man with the growling stomach, they realized they were naked, and one thing led to another. Like Mark, who remembers the sordid details of the parking lot, that’s the part we latch onto. God got angry, and cast them out – the same way Jesus got angry, and cast out the unclean spirit. The part of the story we let go in one ear and out the other is at the center of the garden, the heart of the message. The forbidden fruit was the “Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” What really got Adam and Eve in trouble wasn’t their nakedness; it was their newfound ability to see good and see evil. They just weren’t very good at it. It was the confusing of good with evil, their inability to distinguish between the two, that really got Adam and Eve cast out.

After worship that Sabbath day in Capernaum, the disciples were the audience for the replaying of the classic battle of good versus evil. So the first lesson of Jesus’ ministry was that the purity of his gospel was more powerful than any unclean spirit. The good stuff IS stronger than the bad stuff. But the second lesson of the drama for his disciples and for us is, I think, just as important as the first. Jesus got mad at the unclean spirit. Was it because the man called Jesus nasty names and challenged his authority? Absolutely not. “I know who you are, the Holy One of God!” Good for him. He’s a perceptive guy. What I think made Jesus mad was what he said right before that. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The man sees the good, and thinks it’s the bad. He sees the life-lighter, and confuses him with a life-smiter. The man’s spirit is unclean, and gets cast out like Adam and Eve, not because it can’t see the good and the bad, but because it can’t tell the difference. Jesus Christ is good news. Jesus Christ came to GIVE life, not to destroy it. The man calls Jesus’ whole purpose into question, and gets it wrong in front of all those people. And that’s what gets Jesus mad.


There’s so much wrong in the world, so many unclean spirits. And the question for us as followers of Jesus is always before us: are we going to get mad enough to do something about what’s truly wrong? Or will we stay enslaved to our own growling stomachs? Will we sit still forever, waiting, for God to do something? I think in that case, it really is OK to get mad at the bad stuff. If our anger motivates us to work for the greater good, then we’re right to shout it out.

But that’s not the only question the people who see Jesus as the Holy One of God have to wrestle with. The question that’s always been around, and will also always be before us is the one that puts us at risk of making God angry. Just because we know there’s good and know there’s bad, are we going to put our faith in our own fallen and sinful sense of judgment? Or are we going to praise the goodness and life-giving authority of Jesus Christ? Do we point a finger and shout destruction? Or do we confess our confusion and mixed-motives, praying that Jesus will cast out our unclean spirits?

The first lesson of Jesus’ ministry, the first priority for his disciples, isn’t to point out what’s wrong. As followers of Jesus, our first priority is to call out the good for what it is. Not to warn. Not to scare. Not to confuse the curse of knowing there’s good and evil with the gift of choosing well between the two. By the Holy Spirit, through the astounding and authoritative teachings of Christ, we can see the goodness of God. And just so there’s no confusion – that IS good news.


“So, Mark,” asks Mrs. Mark, “How was worship?”
“Oh, it was great.”
“Well, what’d the preacher preach on?”
“God. God is great. And God is good.”
“I see,” she says. “And then what happened?”
“And then,” says Mark, “he showed us.”