There is a reality we parishioners and pastors alike rather not acknowledge: your pastor gets angry. No matter who you are—whether attending here or elsewhere--it applies. Not just some other pastor in some different denomination far away, but your very own pastor. The honest truth is your pastor--no matter who she or he is--gets angry. Your pastor gets disappointed. Your pastor curses—whether silently in their head or out loud. [GASP!] Your pastor—a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ--experiences the same emotions and wrestles with many, if not most, of the same difficulties in life you face. Has the stained glass image you have in mind of your pastor--wishfully resembling Jesus--shattered yet?
For some people, this is a very difficult concept to grasp. In the church I grew up in, I remember many people placing the pastor on a pedestal—holding him at a level comparable to Christ. He had not sought that, but people let their respect for him turn into an unhealthy and misplaced reverence. Unfortunately, such a standard of perfection has countless flaws. When we hold a portrait of our pastor that is not honest about human sin and brokenness, there is little room for grace. If you have not experienced it yet (either you have not been in the church for more than a day, or you have not been paying attention), let me be the first to say: your pastor will get angry. Your pastor will make a mistake—for sure more than one, some you will not see, and others you will experience face-to-face. The liturgical component of Confession and Forgiveness we Lutherans begin worship with each week is not only for you, but is also very much for your pastor. That person who leads you in confessing your guilt before God and one another—the one who speaks absolution for all of your sins in Jesus’ name—is in need of the same exact confession and forgiveness for their own anger, disappoint, cursing, etc., etc.
As someone who gets angry and who is also a pastor, I find comfort in the stories about Jesus getting angry—such as his cursing the fig tree:
“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it. In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’” (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21)
Some interpreters try to reason through such raw stories by saying Jesus’ anger was his humanity coming out, or it appears to be anger but Jesus is only teaching those around him. To say this is simultaneously poppycock and heresy. We cannot (and should not) separate Jesus’ humanity from his divinity. As we confess: Jesus—the Son incarnate—is always fully human and fully divine. Instead of offering answers to excuse Jesus’ anger, what if we just said: “Yeah, Jesus is angry and curses a tree.” Perhaps the reason is less important than the action itself. This is not the only time we encounter Jesus angry. He also speaks harshly to a foreign woman seeking his help and throws tables around in the temple courtyard. The One we confess to be without sin loses his temper just like you and me.
Your pastor gets angry; and unfortunately, is sure to get angry in the future. In these times of pain and discomfort, offer him or her grace. Where there is repentance, speak to them words of forgiveness in Jesus’ name--they need to hear it from you. Do not place them at the right hand of God, but see in them a beloved child of God--called to serve the church, even in spite of their times of anger, disappointment, and cursing. We all get angry--even Jesus. Let us live in God’s all-encompassing grace that covers all people’s anger.