Archbishop Philip Freier
16 July 2023
While the memory of the second cricket Test at Lord’s in the Ashes series has likely receded from our attention, we may still recall the controversy over the dismissal of English batter, Jonny Bairstow that seized media attention at the time. As John Silvester wrote in The Age newspaper, “… this is the modern world where outrage is the new international currency. Where being mean is a substitute for being strong. Any fool can yell insults. Only the wise see both sides. Both British and Australian PMs have weighed into the Bairstow debate as if it actually matters. You would think they both would have more important things to do.”
Unsurprisingly, the wisdom literature of the Bible contains many references to this same phenomenon. Our trajectory towards being outraged may seem modern but is in fact a well-trodden, even if unproductive, path. “Refrain from anger and forsake wrath. Do not fret – it only leads to evil” (Psalm 37:8). And, “Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Both of these verses come to mind from the Old Testament as does 2 Timothy 2:23, among many other references in the New Testament, “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know they breed quarrels.”
Even though we are well warned about the unproductiveness of outrage it nonetheless seems very attractive, especially when it becomes a shared societal response. It can seem that the proposition is that, if something really matters it properly should call us to express that conviction with unattenuated intensity. Jesus receives that kind of response when the crowd calls out, “Crucify him”. In his pastoral ministry the same response is seen in the accusation that he was “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19). Jesus goes on to say in response to this accusation that, “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Read more: Gathering to back mindfulness for peace
As John Silvester said, “Any fool can yell insults. Only the wise see both sides.” Foolishness inevitably invites the contrast to wisdom. Foolishness is easily embraced but wisdom arises out of the disciplining, or as we might better say, the discipling of the mind and the heart. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus made the connection between discipleship and abiding in his word. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31, 32). This is powerful and succinct language and, as Jesus elaborates later in the fourth gospel, at the very heart of the question of how his disciples live in the world. Speaking of his forthcoming death Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
May you find the peace that is Jesus’ gift to all who follow him. May you also be protected from the unproductive temptation to join in the responses of the “crowd” and instead abide in Jesus’ love.