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19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. 20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.
22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.
James’ style was similar to what Bible scholars call “wisdom literature.” The book of Proverbs was a striking example of that type of writing. It didn’t lay out long, connected arguments, but strung wise ideas together without trying to make smooth transitions. In today’s passage, James switched quite abruptly to two of his other major themes: the power of speech (we’ll learn more about this next week) and the importance of living out what God teaches us (we’ll learn more in week 3).
Lord Jesus, you famously said that we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (cf. John 8:31-32). Keep leading me into the vast freedom you offer me as I follow you. Amen
A few years ago my wife Doris & I wrote an 8-week study for her ladies’ group entitled “What Would Scooby Doo?” looking at how vintage cartoons like The Flintstones, The Jetsons, & Bugs Bunny might help illuminate Biblical themes, such as the importance of connections, viewing the future, & finding joy in the simple life. (8 weeks? Good heavens – Editor. Well, Doris is a gifted facilitator & the ladies are extremely indulging of my eccentricities – DL.) One of the weeks we considered the popular cartoon character, Pink Panther. Let’ see how our feline friend might help illustrate James’ discussion of anger in today’s passage:
Aside: TV executives are experimenting to see how the Flintstone’s humor & catch phrases like “Yabba-Dabba-Do” could be received overseas. Interestingly, folks in Europe do not get the jokes, but viewers in Middle-Eastern countries, like Abu Dhabi, do.
In 1963, Blake Edwards was producing a movie called The Pink Panther starring David Niven & Peter Sellers. (The pink panther in the movie references a legendary diamond.) He wanted a cartoon “short” to open the movie. As it turns out, the cartoon of the Pink Panther earned more praise & applause than the film. Audiences stayed around for the final credits to see more of the Pink Panther & the franchise was born. The Pink Panther has been featured in 124 short films, 10 different TV shows, & 3 prime time specials.
Fun Fact: There was to be a crossover movie featuring Bugs Bunny on Star Trek. Per the draft script, Bugs Bunny is beamed aboard The Enterprise & says, “What’s up, Spock?”
The Pink Panther is known for his calm & cool manner, even in the midst of chaos & quarreling. He seems to be able to just float above all the strife & not let it bother him. The Pink Panther only speaks in 2 of his cartoons, preferring to let his actions speak for him.
The Pink Panther is joined in many episodes by the Lil’ Man. Lil’ Man is easily angered, has no patience for shenanigans, & is prone to tantrums. Oddly, the Pink Panther’s nonchalant demeanor just makes the Lil’ Man even angrier.
Fun Fact: 96% of all operatic knowledge comes from Bugs Bunny & Looney Tunes.
So how might a light-hearted cartoon help us understand James’ charge to be slow to anger?
The Lil’ Man is the personification of who James tells us not to be. The Lil’ Man is always blustering & red-faced over every little mishap that comes his way & seems eager to get into conflicts. He flies off the handle from the opening scene of every episode & stays in a constant state of turmoil the entire time.
On the other hand, the Pink Panther exhibits traits that fulfills James’ encouragement:
The Pink Panther doesn’t feel obligated to inject himself in every dispute or debate. He carefully picks his battles & leaves the minor skirmishes to someone else. Many of our quarrels are dragged out because we have to get the last word in or “to set the record straight.” (By the way, where exactly is this “record,” who keeps it, & how can I get a copy?) Consider the effort required in the old days to send a furious letter to the editor: Type or write out your brilliant, well-thought-out opinion that will enter the pantheon of rebuttals. Find the mailing address for the newspaper. Place the letter in an envelope, get a stamp, put it in the mail, & wait 3 days for it to be received. What if we mimicked this timeline before we typed up our rejoinder on social media, or sent that snide email in ALL CAPS, or before leaving a snarky voicemail? A lot of our life’s strife & discord would be diminished.
The Pink Panther doesn’t feel the need to share his opinions on each & every topic. We live in an age where there is rarely an unexpressed thought. I’m reminded of the old adage that polite conversation with strangers should avoid topics like sex, politics, & religion. Today, we can’t stop talking about sex, politics, & religion. Amazingly, we seem to be angrier than ever. Huh. Maybe there’s a connection. Perhaps we could remember that sometimes silence is golden.
Finally, the Pink Panther concludes most episodes happily sauntering down the road ready for the next adventure. I would submit that this is James’ hope for each & every one of us as well.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to make sure I have my Looney Tunes CD in the car for our upcoming road trip-–it’s my favorite car tune.
PS: For those who might need a refresher on the Pink Panther:
* Wright, N. T., Early Christian Letters for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 11). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
** Wright, N. T., Early Christian Letters for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 12). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.