Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday devo: Pity and anger

As promised, this is a new feature. I hope to publish a short piece every Monday, writing about something I've been reading in the Bible.  Because what better way to start Monday than to start it with God.

Last night, I was reading these words in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark: "A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. 'If you want to, you can make me well again,' he said. Moved with pity, Jesus touched him. 'I want to,' he said. 'Be healed.' Instantly the leprosy disappeared--the man was healed." (Mark 1:40-42).

Next to the phrase "moved with pity" was an asterisk that led me to a note at the bottom of the page that read "Some manuscripts read 'moved with anger.'"

I find it so interesting that these two words would be used in this situation. Pity denotes sorrow and compassion, and certainly we often feel sorrow for and compassion on those who are suffering.  "I'm so sorry for your loss." "I'm sorry this happened to you."

But anger is also a common and natural reaction to suffering. If we know who caused the suffering, we feel angry at them. Other times we feel angry at God, at fate, at the universe, at life. Things were supposed to be different and someone or something is to blame.  If we want to sound spiritual, we might call it righteous indignation. Anger.

Whether our reaction to suffering is pity or anger would seem to depend on our perspective. Are we focused on the person who is suffering? Pity that poor person. Are we focused on the cause of the suffering? How dare that person/thing cause this kind of suffering.

As he so often did, my guess is that Jesus managed to capture both sides at once in perfect balance -- pity for the sufferer, anger at the thing that causes suffering to be part of our world. 

A reminder to me as I start this week to not overlook the real plight of people in my righteous indignation and to remember in the face of suffering that this is not the way things are supposed to be.

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