Contemplating Contempt

I’ve been processing the eighth chapter of Invitation to the Jesus Life by Jan Johnson for quite awhile now. You may have noticed it’s been a slow journey. We began this chapter with a simple definition: “Contempt is studied anger” (Johnson, p. 110). It’s the way we use our minds when no one is looking, when we could be doing something completely different, when we stew over those things that have happened to us and wounded us. It’s what we do with all our pent up mental energy when we’re ticked off.

As a good friend of mine would say right about now, “So what?” Does it matter how we use our mental energy all that much? After all, so long as we confess and repent each time, it’s not an issue, right? If you don’t mind, let’s go there for a little while.

Johnson suggests we process our anger with God, and I couldn’t agree more! How we go through that process is unique to each of us, and it may require some skilled professional help. That’s not particularly my focus here. I want to touch on something else, but I encourage each of us to assess our own needs and level of care or assistance necessary.

One of my favorite things about this book is the focus on Jesus himself as our standard. Always the example of serenity (which Jan Johnson fairly thoroughly examines in the chapter), He also taught wisdom from the Scriptures. I’m of the mind that much of what He taught (and what the early church teachers provide in the New Testament) speaks to this specific topic. Shall we dive in?

I wonder what would happen if we considered contempt by Johnson’s definition in light of a few biblical insights. Let’s begin with a scenario in Mark when Jesus is under scrutiny at the Temple in the week prior to the arrest and crucifixion. (I would really enjoy dialogue about the specifics of Jesus as the Passover Lamb and the examination of the sacrificial lamb at the Temple prior to the sacrifice, but that would be a rabbit trail.) A scribe–“one of the Torah teachers”, according to David H. Stern’s Jewish New Testament–asks Jesus about the “most important commandment” (Mark 12:28, NIV).

“This is the most important,” Jesus answered:
Listen Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
“The second is:  Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-30, HCS)

I don’t know if you notice the first part of this text in the same manner that I do, so let’s take a closer look for a moment. Do you see it? A little background is nice. Jesus is quoting the Torah (Deut. 6:4,5), so it is fairly the same as it appears in the earlier text. No surprises.

I just can’t ignore that Jesus elected to answer the question with the full text. Very simply, the teacher is asking for the “greatest commandment”, the most important mitzvah. When we think of those terms (commandment and mitzvah), what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Don’t we want to concern ourselves with the activity wrapped up in that commandment? Don’t we naturally want to hear Jesus say, “Do this.” I’m not surprised that’s our inclination. To be honest, there are things common to all of us whether 2000 years ago or today. Don’t we all just want to know what’s expected of us and how we can live up to or exceed those expectations? Hence, we want to know God’s bottom line expectations, the greatest and most important things that should head up our own “To Do” lists.

I think this is brilliant! As a splash droplet, this is just glimmering all over the place!

Jesus offers an answer to the teacher’s question that begins with God. (Okay, class dismissed!) No, let’s look at this more closely. Aside from the “hidden” reference to the Trinity which you could find on your own, there’s something (to me) that’s really important here.  Let me toss it out. I see these things when I look at the scenario. What do you think?

I see Jesus answering the teacher with words from the expressed will of God. God has spoken and revealed himself and his will through the Scriptures, so it’s not surprising that he would do that. He communicates from the heart of God, in more than one way (his own loving words, his reference to the Scriptures, and his ultimate sacrifice as Christ and Passover Lamb). I see that Jesus begins with God.  He could have chosen to offer only the commandment, “Love the Lord your God…” But, he didn’t do that. Jesus began his response with the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), the Creator of all things (Eccl. 12:1; Is. 40:28; 43:15), the reason we draw a breath (Job 12:10; Acts 17:2), the One who created and offered salvation (Ex. 15:2; Ps. 13:5; 14:7; 27:1; 37:39; Luke 1:69; Acts 4:12). The list of character traits and Scriptures could be near endless! Jesus begins with God, the Lord, his Father, himself, and the Spirit, really. Then, as the Scripture in Deuteronomy instructs, he offers the appropriate response to the Lord, the Holy One!

Okay, so how does this all correlate to the chapter on contempt? (Do I have time to do this justice? Probably not.)

In response to the one God, we are commanded to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, NIV). Let’s just begin the processing of this with a few questions:

  • When your heart, soul, mind and strength are consumed with loving the Lord, where does “studied anger” fit in to your schedule?
  • What would it look like to fully love God with your heart? Your soul? Your mind? Your strength?
  • In light of Mark 12:31, where will contempt for others fit into your schedule?
  • God’s expressed will says “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Where does contempt as “studied anger” fit into you life with this in mind?

There’s more. You’re not surprised, I imagine, but I’m going to let it rest here.

Blessings as you consider love and contempt…


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One Response to “Contemplating Contempt”

  1. P* Says:

    Mmm! Insightful, as always, J*.:o)

    My bottom line assessment (lol!): A total/all consuming love for God = less contempt. On the flip side: Heavy contempt = anemic love (at best)
    I’m sure we’ll break out the scuba gear w/this later.;)

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