His disciples remembered that it is written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17)
This weekend, we will have the opportunity to witness what happened to Jesus on the Monday of Holy Week. Though we are very aware of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter – we often miss the three days following the triumphal entrance.
We are jumping to the gospel of John (from Mark) for this lesson, to remember what it is about worshiping God that should fill us with such zeal. John places this incident at the beginning of the Jesus’ ministry, but the other three writers place it at the end of Jesus’ earthly life. The writer of John quotes Psalm 69 in this passage, which is focused on many of the traditional ways we display the zeal of our faith: sackcloth, ashes, all the elements of a traditional fast. The psalmist does these things and finds that he has become the butt of peoples’ jokes as a result. The writer expresses to God their frustration at this, while also expressing a willingness to remain faithful.
For those who are familiar with this gospel story, you may see the irony. When the disciples witness their teacher in the temple on Holy Monday, he is not displaying a traditional fast. There is no sackcloth. No ashes. And certainly not the humility we would expect from traditional worship.
Jesus displays an entirely different type of zeal. He sees the ways that the religious people have bought into the economic system to exploit the children of God as they attempt to worship. And Jesus is incensed. In righteous anger he flips tables and creates a whip from cords to drive the moneychangers and merchants from the building. This is not the meek and mild Jesus we learned about in Sunday School.
Though the two passages, Psalm 69 and John 2, may seem incongruous, what is appropriately blatant between them is that our actions on behalf of God might cause some discomfort for those around us, including the religious establishment.
Perhaps it is not through such candid zeal as our Lord, however, if we are truly living into Jesus’ commandments to love with the full reckless abandon he desires – we will likely get the same strange looks the psalmist describes. Our worship is meant to extend beyond our sanctuaries and into the world that God loves. There we are to take up worship and fasting that are pleasing to God – the fast that Isaiah 58 described two weeks ago. We are to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. We are to share our bread with the hungry, offer clothing to the naked, and welcome the homeless into our own homes. These actions display a level of love that goes far beyond the sentimental feelings we describe every Valentine’s Day.
As my favorite Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers, used to say, “Love is an action verb, like struggle.” We, too, should be angry when we see others being hurt. We should be frustrated that the world, even fellow followers of Christ, look at us strangely for living out our faith, while they wallow in fear, destruction, and hatred. However, those feelings of consternation should lead us into greater acts of welcome, justice, peace, and, yes, love for others. It is then that we will truly see the zeal of the Lord’s house consume us. May we learn what this means and live it.