Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles
What are we to make of the wrath of God? Some people, like Marcion, suggest that God’s anger is a relic of a pre-Christian past that we would best leave behind, together with the Old Testament scriptures that attest to what they believe to be—at best—an inferior god, who is superceded in Christ. The Church has long rejected this position, which is eminently contradicted by scriptural evidence, and not only from the Old Testament, but from the new one as well.
We may be able to better understand God’s wrath on the basis of Jesus’ conversation with Philip, whom the Western Church celebrates today together with James the lesser. Having spent years with the disciples, Jesus—knowing that we will soon die—shares with the disciples what it is that he has given them through the life that he has lived among them. This revelation is breathtakingly beautiful, especially since it does not stand alone, but reveals the meaning of the countless things that Jesus has shared with his disciples through their lives together. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6-7). But here, just as Jesus—who only has a few hours left to live—hopes that at least his disciples might have received what he had to offer, Philip exclaims: “show us the Father and that will be enough!” (Jn 14:8) Jesus’ disappointment is palpable. “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” (Jn 14:9)
What we see here, in Jesus’ disappointment, helps to explain God’s anger. If Jesus had been some sort of detached sage, he could hover indifferently over the ineptitude and obtuseness of his disciples. They “just don’t get it,” so they’ll get “left behind,” and, well, “who cares?” Actually, Jesus does. He cares very much. Jesus gets disappointed, even angry, because he is not a know-it-all sage who is indifferent to our folly, but one who engages himself—to the death—to save us out of love for us. God’s anger is nothing but an expression of his love, and therefore, of his mercy. God’s anger is not the self-righteous anger of the devil who—in many a medieval passion play—rails against God for having robbed him of souls that were rightfully his. There is nothing petty, prideful, or self-referential about God’s anger, and those people who think that God shares their own self-righteous anger might be surprised—on the last day—to discover to whom God actually directs his anger. Rather, through his disappointment and anger, God expresses his passionate love for us. “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?” (Jn 14:9) When will you learn no longer to speak “on your own,” for “I do not speak on my own?” (Jn 14:10) When will you stop being such a know-it-all and believe in me, so that you can “do the works that I do?” (Jn 14:12). It is the last hour and time is short; the Son wants to offer the greatest thing: will you accept it?
May 3rd, 2016