Jesus’ Very Long Day: Keeping Our Irritation in Check

Have you ever just needed some time alone–but couldn’t get it? How did you respond to the people interrupting you?

(c)  Saurabh Vyas / flickr

(c) Saurabh Vyas / flickr

If you’re anything like me, chances are that you felt–and probably expressed–some irritation. (To my own dismay, I even did it while writing this post!)

A wise person, however, doesn’t express their anger right away. Proverbs 12:16 says, “Fools show their annoyance at once [ouch], but the prudent overlook an insult.” Yet the wise path is not easy to follow here. Jesus, who was himself the very embodiment of wisdom, said that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” In other words, if we’re feeling irritated, it’s likely to come out when we’re provoked.

Nobody has ever been provoked to anger more than Jesus was, yet he demonstrated his perfect wisdom by never lashing out in irritation. Here’s just one example. Matthew 14 tells the story of one incredibly long, stressful day in Jesus’ life. It began with him receiving the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded.

Until that point, John had been Jesus’ closest partner in ministry. They met before they were even born; John leaped in his mother’s womb when Mary walked in the room. John spent his entire public life “preparing the way” for Jesus’ ministry, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

So John’s death hit Jesus hard. Not immune to human emotions while here on earth, Jesus reacted as any of us might: by wanting to be alone. Specifically, “he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” But the throngs of people who followed him everywhere didn’t accept this; they followed him by foot along the shore. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd,” he didn’t shoo them away. Instead, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

This went on until evening, when Jesus’ disciples encouraged him to disperse the crowd so they could return home for dinner. But instead, Jesus performed the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes to feed the crowd, which at this point numbered 5,000 men, plus women and children.  Only after they had all eaten did Jesus send the crowd home.

It’s clear that Jesus still felt like being alone. The text says he dismissed the crowd “immediately” after they ate, and then sent the disciples off on their own, too, by boat. Finally by himself, he ascended a nearby mountain to pray. It’s not difficult to imagine the grief he must have felt as he communed with his Father, underscored all the more by the storm that developed that evening.

Meanwhile, the disciples traveled “a considerable distance from land,” buffeted by the high winds. Around 3:00 in the morning, Jesus made his way out to meet them. This was his second miracle of evening: walking on water. We often think of this amazing display of divine power when we think of Jesus.

But have you ever considered how Jesus must have been feeling at the time? The text isn’t clear on the precise timing, but it does say that he reached them by walking. Regardless of whether 3:00 was the time Jesus began his walk, or whether he had already covered the “considerable distance” by then, he still did not get very much time at all alone on the mountain–or sleep, for that matter.

And what did he do when he got there? Say, “for Pete’s sake, Peter, move over so I can get some sleep?” No. Instead, he took the time to invite Peter out of the boat in a timeless display of the power of faith.

Granted, when Peter doubts and begins to sink, it’s easy to read Jesus’ statement “You of little faith” as irritation. It certainly conveyed disappointment, and it wasn’t the only time he said this to those who purported to follow him. During his life, Jesus did not hold back his annoyance–even his rage–in response to those who abused others, especially when they did it in God’s name. But to those who earnestly sought him, even his expressions of frustration were carefully chosen to encourage others to trust him wholeheartedly. He didn’t call Peter an idiot (though Peter often acted like one); instead, he called Peter’s attention to the fault that held him back from truly experiencing God. Never did Jesus tear down, criticize, or shut down someone in response to their foibles or shortcomings.

This ability came only from his heart’s constant grounding in the ways of God. More than anyone else, Jesus saw the big picture of humanity. He never let his short-term emotions get in the way of improving the eternal destiny of those around him.

We are wise when we follow that example.