Perhaps there is a third category.

Somewhere between “Aggressive” and “Strong” lies a territory I think of as “Forceful”.

“Forceful” might at times look like “Aggressive”; but they are worlds apart. “Forceful” is full of force, but not the force of “Aggressive”.

The force behind “Aggressive” is insecure, fearful and anxious. The force behind “Forceful”  is love, truth and freedom. “Forceful” is not driven or compelled by external circumstance; it is chosen. Jesus was not “Aggressive”; but he could be “Forceful”.

One of the most dramatic demonstrations of “Forceful” in Jesus’ life, is the incident referred to as the “cleansing of the temple.” This story is often used to illustrate that even Jesus at times became angry. Admittedly, if one had been there to witness this event, it might have felt like anger coming from Jesus. But, if you read the accounts you will notice that nowhere is anger mentioned:

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
   but you are making it a den of robbers.’ (Matthew 21:12-13)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:13-15)

We impose anger on this story because the action looks angry and it is hard for us to imagine such “Forceful” behaviour coming from anywhere other than an angry place. But, the Gospel writers, never mention anger in this temple story.

Jesus was certainly “Forceful” on this occasion. His actions were full of force; but he does not appear to have been driven by anger. Jesus was not out of control; his actions were not compelled by external circumstances. His actions appear to have been entirely intentional, calculated, almost calm. Notice in Matthew’s account, after describing Jesus’ dramatic actions, the writer says,

Jesus said to them, ‘It is written…’.

Jesus does not shout; he does not pound the table. He calmly quotes Scripture to explain his behaviour and drive home the spiritual point he is trying to embody in this dramatically acted out teaching parable.

“Forceful” is not driven by emotion; the actions and words of “Forceful” are freely chosen and carefully considered; they are not reactive. They come from a deep inner place of strength and rightness. “Forceful” takes the time to look carefully and see deeply. It is not in a rush; it does not operate on automatic.

Jesus is acting in a conscious intentional manner. He is directing his behaviour, guided by the internal compass of self-awareness and a willingness to put aside his own self-interest, even at great personal cost:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)

This is a challenging picture. It is hard to set your face to go to Jerusalem when you know that “Jerusalem” means only rejection, suffering and ultimately death. It is hard to speak or act without self-interest.

Ego so easily creeps into my words and actions leaving me to default to “Aggressive” in an attempt to avoid the inevitable discomfort and pain of life. But Jesus had confronted the demons of self-interest (Matthew 4:1-11) and emerged from the wilderness of ego-captivity to a place of freedom where his actions were not controlled by any external force or personal agenda, not even the compulsion for change.

“Forceful” is not intent so much on bringing about change as it is on living truthfully. Jesus changed nothing in the temple system by his behaviour. At the end of the day, the temple returned to business as usual and Jesus just walked away (Matthew 21:17). He did not continue to harangue the temple officials or stay to network and set up little action groups to overthrow the unjust oppressive temple system.

Forceful does not demand a certain outcome; it is content to speak and act from that place within that feels true and authentic no matter what the results may be.

“Forceful” is only possible in a life which is committed to deep self-awareness, honesty and authenticity. “Forceful” can speak and act with strength because “Forceful” has genuinely done its homework. It has allowed the realities of life to carve away its superficial attachments, its neediness and its insecurities. It has arrived at that consciousness where it is possible to turn over the tables without acting from a place of violence.