Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Seven Deadlies": IRA

Luke 23: 13-25

Genesis 4: 1-8

On this second Sunday of Eastertide, we turn our attention to the next of the seven deadly sins:

ira; anger in English.  You may recall we discussed the topic of anger a few months ago -- weeks

before this COVID crisis which is now stoking a growing anger; especially among those who are

getting impatient and anxious, and want things to just return to normal.  At that time, we looked at

anger from the practical side, and discussed how we might deal with anger – an emotion we all

struggle with to some degree - in constructive and Christ-like ways.  [if you’re interested in hearing

or reading that message, it’s archived at our website, dated February 9]  This morning, we look at

the same topic more broadly, more theoretically and more theologically; as it is perhaps the most

deadly, or at least the most destructive, of those seven deadlies;  self-destructive to the one carrying anger;

other-destructive to those at whom their anger is directed.

      William Willimon in his book Sinning Like a Christian notes that the upshot of anger can be

found across the pages of Scripture.  He cites three examples: “In resentful anger, Cain killed Abel. 

The first time the Bible mentions rage, that rage led to the first fratricide [brother murdering brother].

In anger, a prophet named Jonah refused to obey God’s call to go to Ninevah, and fled in the opposite direction.

Even Jesus’ first sermon at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth ended in anger. The congregation tried to kill him,

so enraged were they by his words.”  In these examples cited by Willimon, we see self-destructive anger as in

the case of Jonah, whose hatred toward the Ninevites was eating him up inside, causing him to behave childishly

and irrationally.  Then we see other destructive anger in the cases of Abel who was murdered by his own blood,

and Jesus who barely escaped being thrown headlong off a cliff by His own people.  Yet Jesus’ escape from those

anger-driven hands was short-lived as three years later, those who carried festering anger toward Him in their hearts

had their way. So liturgically, I want to back up a little to what is really a Good Friday passage.  As we read this familiar

text from Luke’s Gospel, notice that the angry demand for Jesus’ destruction is given threefold expression at verses 18, 21 and 23;

the evangelist’s way of communicating that the mob was not mildly angry, but wildly enraged.

          (Read Luke 23:13-25)

      This part of Jesus’ so-called trial lifts up three features of anger I’d like us to cover this morning. 

But before doing so, it’s worth noting that the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament uses two

distinct words in describing anger.  The first Greek word is thumos which is usually translated

“wrath.”  Thumos is derived from a Greek root which literally means “to boil over,” and describes

anger which flares up quickly, then just as quickly fizzles.  One way to think of it is like a fire kindled

with dry straw.  The fire crackles and blazes for a moment, but having no fuel to sustain it, it quickly

goes out.  Thumos then can be understood as that burst of temper; an explosion of anger; a

momentary outbreak of uncontrollable passion.  We Italian folk are well-known for our thumos. 

      I had a great aunt [we’ll call her “Marie”] who could go off like a fire cracker.  The family would

gather at her home over the holidays to eat and play cards.  We all knew full well that at some

point during our game of Michigan Rummy, Aunt Marie – who was a really bad card player -- would

start losing her pennies.  In frustration, she would throw her cards across the table, stomp away…..

just minutes later, she’d return with a big smile and a platter of ziti with sausage and meatballs.  In

a strange way, her momentary wrath – her thumos -- became endearing [“There goes Aunt Marie

again”], and one of the things we missed about her when she passed away.  The holidays were

 never quite the same.

      The Greek word orge on the other hand is described as anger which has become habitual;

chronic; seething; even addictive.  Orge becomes a mindset, even a habit of the heart; an attitude if you will.

  Therein lies the deadliness of the sin.  Orge is anger which can neither forgive nor forget a

wrong or injury – real or perceived – and can often last a lifetime. 

      Found in our Italian family was not only Aunt Marie’s thumos, but Uncle Sal’s orge.  A painful

chapter of our history was written upon the occasion of my great grandfather’s death in 1961.  My

paternal grandparents Lawrence and Margaret were the only members of the family willing to care

for my grandmother’s aging father, who, as the story was handed down, was not an easy man to

live with.  While all of Margaret’s eight siblings went off to live their lives from under the thumb of

their demanding father, Margaret and Lawrence chose to live with and tend to him in the family

homestead, and suffered it for some twenty years.  Yet Uncle Sal, who wanted the homestead for

his own, always lived with anger in his chest against my grandfather, surely driven by a couple of

other deadlies: envy and greed.  A few weeks after my great grandfather’s passing, the siblings sat

around the big oak dining table in his home awaiting the reading of the will.  When the attorney

came to the part which left the property to Margaret and Lawrence, Sal’s festering anger exploded

in a tirade of curses against Lawrence, wishing him to die, with even an attempt [it’s been said] to

physically attack him.  My grandfather – who was a gentle, and humble, and hard-working man –

never got over this.  He himself died of cancer and a broken heart just three years later.  Until my

grandmother’s death twenty years beyond that, her siblings never again set foot in that family

homestead, leaving her isolated and alone. 

    Although we might laugh off thumos – anger which explodes and dissipates, and condemn orge –

anger which seethes and consumes, both can be equally destructive and deadly. 

     And we see both thumos and orge playing out in our primary text, where Jesus stands before

Pontius Pilate and the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem, and to the three features of anger which

are brought to light in this episode.  The first is that anger – whether thumos or orge – can lead to

irrational thoughts and nonsensical behavior.  This is one of the things which makes anger perhaps

the deadliest and most destructive of the seven.  The unbridled passion of explosive anger and/or

festering anger can shut down the mind; of both the individual, and of the masses of which they

are a part.  Whatever we might think of Pontius Pilate, he alone was bringing a voice of reason:  

“You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him

in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him,” Pilate

told the religious leaders and assembled multitude who were calling for Jesus’ execution.  “Neither

has Herod, for he sent him back to us.  Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death.”  This

seemed to be Pilate’s way of saying, “Y’all are losing your heads, not even thinking straight.”

      But the religious leaders in particular were so consumed by their anger that they had closed

themselves to any voice of reason.  Further evidence of their irrational thinking was in their insistence

that a murderer named Barabbas be released in place of this rabbi; who not only hadn’t

murdered anyone, but who had gone around doing nothing but works of kindness, compassion,

and mercy.  Jesus’ greatest offense was telling the truth.  And for that, they demanded His blood.

In tandem with anger, the deadlies of pride and envy led to Jesus’ unjust and senseless crucifixion.

      Not only can anger be irrational, but a second feature exposed in this episode is that anger can

become irradicable; that is to say impossible to quench because it’s become so deeply-internalized. 

 And anger gains momentum, reaching the point of no return.  Not once, or even twice, but three

times, Pilate tries to reason with the angry mob.  But at least in the case of the leaders, their anger

had been building for months if not years.  They had been nursing and feeding their anger with

every word that Jesus spoke and every act which Jesus performed; accusing Him of perverting the

Jewish Law, but mostly angry because Jesus’ popularity was a blow to their pride, and His ministry a

source of their envy.  I would suggest that even if the religious leaders were able to hear the voice

of reason, they were so filled with wrath and rage that they were beyond being able to respond to

it anyway.  They had passed that point of no return.  Such deeply entrenched anger almost always

results in destruction.  We need only watch the news, or read the paper, or surf the NET, or open

Facebook to see evidence of deeply-rooted anger becoming destructive and deadly.

      A third feature of anger exposed in this trial of Jesus is that anger can be infectious. I wonder

how many folk in that crowd didn’t know much about Jesus beyond what they had been told? 

There were thousands of pilgrims from all over the region in Jerusalem for the Passover, many if

if not most of whom had never seen Jesus before His dramatic entry into the city on that first Palm

Sunday.  And they who now called for His life may have been the very same characters who, just

days earlier, had hailed Him “….the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Yet in a mob, as we

all know, anger can take on a life of its own.  Further stoking the heat of anger beginning to roil in

the masses were “the chief priests and elders (who were) persuad(ing) the crowds to ask for Barabbas

and to have Jesus killed” according to Matthew’s account of this trial.  By the time Jesus

stood before them, the anger of a relative few had spread like a pandemic virus throughout the

multitude; so much so that after three attempts to placate them, “Pilate gave his verdict that their

demand should be granted.”  The voice of anger prevailed.  This is a very insidious and very deadly

feature of anger which accounts for tragic riots which usually begin as peaceful demonstrations. 

It’s almost as if a spirit of anger permeates a crowd like a noxious gas, poisoning everyone within

range.  That’s why gatherings such as we’ve seen in Minnesota, Virginia, Georgia and elsewhere

protesting the curtailment of some freedoms in light of COVID19 must be closely watched.  As we

well know, things have a way of getting out of control real fast.

      There is so much more we could say about that deadly sin of ira.  I certainly don’t want you to

become irri-tated with me for carrying on too long.  So I’ll get out while the getting is good.  I’ll just

close by inviting you all to return next Sunday for our first online celebration of Holy Communion.

May we pray:

Thank you, Father in heaven, for allowing us to open and interpret Your word.  Continue to speak

to us in the week ahead, granting us patience, instilling in us wisdom, and helping us keep a cool

head when it’s not easy.  Amen.