By, Isam Itson III
It is 2020 and I work in a grocery store. I wear a face mask every shift. I spend at least one hour every shift at the front door making certain everyone is wearing a face mask who enters the store. On my days off when I run errands, sometimes I get out of my car and forget my face mask. I get to the door of an establishment and have to go back to my car to get a mask so I can enter the store and go about my daily business. It is inconvenient and tiring. And of all people, I should never forget my mask.
But forgetting my mask and going back to my car or into my home to retrieve a mask has never been life threatening. I recently found this story on a German news site,
A music producer, Michel, was walking in Paris without wearing a face mask, French media reported, when he spotted a police car. Wishing to avoid a fine for not wearing a mask, he ducked into his music studio. According to the video footage taken by neighbors and published on the French website Loopsider, three officers followed Michel into the studio where they attacked him with truncheons and punched him repeatedly, yelling racist epithets at him. They then allegedly returned with back up to throw a tear gas canister in the studio, before holding Michel for 48 hours in custody.
Injustice enrages us. We get angry when the people we love and identify with are used, abused, violated, and exploited. We get angry when they are exploited, bruised, battered, and killed. For followers of Jesus Christ the opportunity for anger and outrage increases potentially exponentially because we are called to identify with everyone as a member of our extended family. After all God is their creator, and Christ died for all of us. God calls us to honor his love for each other and to reach out to the people around us, as agents of his love, grace, and faithfulness to all people, who like us, are made in God’s image.
So what do we do with our anger in the face of injustice? Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.” We don’t sin. We don’t take matters of retribution into our own hands. That’s what the devil wants us to do. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”, Deuteronomy 32:35.
So what do we do? First, we express our anger, grief, fear, and pain to God. Individually and collectively, we cry out to God. And when we get angry again, we express our anger to God again, as often as necessary. Whenever I read through the book of Psalms, I am a little unsettled by the calls for violent retribution against the writer’s enemies. What really unnerves me is the fact that these songs were written to be sung by the congregation.
Then I remember that these psalms, or songs, were addressed to God. God wants us to express our emotions, even our anger, to him. He wants us to do it privately and collectively. Then, God wants us to get back to loving him and honoring his love for others.
Paul wrote in Romans 12:19-21, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Second, we embrace generous and meaningful contribution to the well being and development of people beyond our immediate circle of friends and family. Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
We get to work honoring God’s love for the members of our congregations and communities, with the fruit of our own labor. We stop taking advantage of the weakness and vulnerability of others. We get jobs that do not exploit people and destroy our communities. Even if it means making less money. We trust God with our own needs and surrender our time, energy, and money to his work in the lives of other people in our churches and communities, by purposefully helping to meet their material needs with our God given resources.
Third, we stop nursing the memories of personal and social offenses. We practice being energetic agents of righteousness and justice, using what God has legitimately and faithfully given us in order to help other people do the same. Ephesians 4:31,32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Yes, they did us wrong. Yes, they do people dirty. But we have also offended others. And God sacrificed his Son, Jesus Christ on our behalf anyway. In response to our faith in his love, he forgave us. So we imitate God by sacrificing our fear of looking “weak”. We courageously embrace the possibility of looking foolish for the sake of restoring people to their God ordained place among us, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. That is, if they want their relationship with God restored. Regardless, we humble ourselves first by reaching out with the offer of reconciliation. Just like Jesus Christ humbled himself in order to reach out to us.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we do not let anyone rob us of our true identity in Jesus Christ. We embrace our God ordained role as representatives of God, who are made in the image of God. We stay true to God. Our essential humanity is fulfilled by honoring the love and faithfulness of God to the people around us. Especially our enemies. We must remind ourselves and encourage one another with this truth, even as we honor the expression of our personal and collective grief and outrage as a part of our worship and devotion to God.
We must not give in to the temptation of forgetting that we belong to God. Especially when we have been wronged.
1. Who or what do you feel has wronged you or wronged those you love? How long have you been holding on to it?
2. How can you express your anger, grief, fear, and/or pain in light of Ephesians 4:26-27?
3. In light of Ephesians 4:31,32 how do you move forward?