Thursday, January 24, 2008

Making a Scourge

Here's another Carl Bloch painting, this one of Christ casting the moneychangers from the temple. It appears that He did this twice during his ministry, so we know that defiling the temple must have been one of His big pet peeves.
I've heard people use Christ's cleansing of the temple to argue that He wasn't all that merciful or loving or perfect, or that He lost His temper and let 'em have it. But, as John recounts,

"And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of
small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise" (John 2:13-16).

Christ sat down and made a scourge of small cords. This isn't the behavior of an impatient man. When He finished making the scourge, He then proceeded to do what needed to be done. His patience and forbearance demonstrate that His actions would have been deliberate, righteous, and requisite with justice of God, not hasty, angry, or short-tempered.

I'm come to realize the value of this kind of patience. I'm a passionate woman, and driven at times to let loose at someone with what I think of them or their behavior. But I've realized that when I take time to braid my own scourge of small cords, when I finally confront someone, my words are better-chosen, my motives more pure, my argument more well thought-out. For emotionally charged conversations, that often means writing a letter, since I'm better at writing than at speaking. That way, I can go through several drafts and pray about my words before sending them, so that I don't say something I later regret. I remember in particular one angry e-mail I received from a friend (let's call him John) who I knew was in the wrong. Had I sent off a response immediately, it probably would have been poorly-worded and angry, something like:

"Dear John-
How dare you? You're a jerk. Go away.

Instead, I took three days to write a response, and even asked a trusted friend for feedback before I sent it. I'm still not one to mince words, and this letter was no exception. But my attitude in writing it was different, and that came across in the tone of the letter. It was direct and pointed but not angry. When I finally sent it, I realized that the things I had written needed to be said, but that I wasn't saying them to vent my anger. All the anger was gone, and there was a deep sense of relief. I thought John would never speak to me again, but that day he came to see me, thanking me profusely for what I had written, and admitting that it was something he had needed to hear for a long time. I was shocked.

Christ was scathing in His condemnation of those who hurt children: "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6). Ouch! I've heard child-rearing "experts" say that you should never spank your children in anger--you shouldn't touch them unless you are in complete control of yourself. I was babysitting the other night and I realized that their counsel can apply equally well to things we say to children. So when the children were supposed to stay in bed but were making noise, I waited for a while before going up to speak with them. My friend who was helping me that night turned to me and said, "You'd better go up there." I told him I would, as soon as I was not angry at them, because it wouldn't do me any good to go and yell at them. I waited until I could be pleasant with them. I guess I was busy with my own heap of small cords.

The next thing I have to work on is not thinking angry thoughts--being even-tempered enough to not need to count to ten (or some such). I'd like to get to the point that I am able to act in the face of provocation rather than react. Action, after all, is a use of agency, where reaction makes us a product of our circumstances. I can't always change my circumstances, but I can change my choices. I think that the same patience technique will work. There's an old Native American proverb that says, "Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins." Maybe my proverb will involve not judging (or chastising) a man until I've made a scourge of small cords.

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