Whatever happened to zeal?

Today’s morning prayer reading from John’s Gospel is the bit about Jesus overturning the tables 0f the money changers and traders in the temple. Not an easy morning for shop managers in our greater churches who will have their legs pulled by knowing clerical customers. The business activity was to provide pilgrims with the right coins and animals for their offerings so it wasn’t just commercialism, but it was getting in the way of prayer and Jesus was annoyed, a bit like I used to be perhaps when a wedding photographer strayed too close to the action and spoiled the intimacy and solemnity of the vows for the sake of a picture.

Mmmm. We don’t react well these days to that sort of religious pickiness or fervour either. Zeal for God’s House was consuming Jesus, and Zealots in a more technical sense were a political problem. Say the word now and others like prejudice or suicide bomber might well come to mind. The legacy lingers of our own Civil War with its strong religious feelings and bloody outcomes. Perhaps that’s why – as the frequency graph above shows – it’s been steadily dropping out of use for some time.

So I leave you with the passage but also a question: in the delicacy of today’s world where religious motivations are becoming more heated for some and more worrying to others, is there such a thing as good religious passion, and if so what is it, where do we see it, and what language should we use for it?

John 2.13-end
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. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.