You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Funny thing about the derivatives of the word “zeal.” We think of “zealous” as “on the case” or “committed,” while “zealot” conjures images of bug-eyed maniacs raging about. The word originally referred to members of a Jewish political group in Jesus’ day who were eager to overthrow the occupying Romans.

However, Jesus’ zeal is directed not at the Romans but at his own religious leaders. Presumably he had an opinion about Roman oppression and cruelty visited upon his fellow Jewish citizens, but the concern the gospels speak to was the corruption of God’s message and heart which he saw in the temple leadership. After his rampage in the temple, John tells us, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” 

What is the place for zeal in the Christian life? The early monastic hermits whom we call the Desert Fathers and Mothers, men and women who went into the desert to seek union with God away from the temptations of society, preached the spiritual virtue of apatheia, a detachment from worldly concerns and agendas that they saw as the goal of the spiritual life. The point was not to be passion-less, but to channel our passion into relationship with the God who loves us passionately. I wonder what the abbas and ammas taught about Jesus’ scene in the temple.

Where do we find our balance between wholehearted passion – for justice, for evangelism, for liberation, to name a few, and apatheia, the spiritual value of letting go?

One way to explore this is to discern when we hear God’s call to a particular area of justice-making, and when our interest might be driven by personal needs. I have a friend who began taking real leadership on the issue of sex trafficking. I asked her why that issue, and she said she felt God clearly tell her to work on that. She avoided it for years because it is such an ugly area of human life – but ultimately she said yes. She is galvanizing communities to shine a light on perpetrators and bring freedom to survivors. She is engaging in God’s mission, not furthering a personal agenda.

What issues get you “hot under the collar?” What about that matter hooks you, do you think? Do you feel God has invited you to participate in that aspect of God’s mission to reclaim, restore and renew all of creation? Do you feel the power of the Holy Spirit with you as you work, and speak, weep or rejoice – or are you drained by the effort? Those are some ways to know where our passion is to be expressed.

However we discern our motivation, let’s constantly invite the Spirit into our passion. When we are gripped with outrage over some injustice or corruption, start to note our reaction and pray right then and there – “God, is this a holy anger? Or is this anxiety or guilt or something else?” And if we sense it is a holy anger, we can take the next step and ask, “How would you like me to proceed? Show me where to hold back and wait on you, and where to move forward with all the fullness of your Spirit working in me.”

We call the great sacrifice our Lord Jesus endured for us – the whole thing, from his arrest through his crucifixion – his “passion,” from the word passio, or suffering. And yet this is also the word we use for ardent love, which is what drove Christ to endure his passion for us. If we let Christ live in us, we will know when to bring it on and when to dial it back. It has to be his work in us, or it’s for nothing.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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