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Friday, August 20, 2010

Concerning Zeal - Part Two

We now continue our exploration of zeal (to read Part One, click here).
Many languages have attached pejorative meanings to words which originally denoted a true and good zeal that benefits self and others. This phenomenon is evidence of the universal experience that zeal is liable to dangerous perversion.

Perversion occurs through the intrusion of selfish emotions and ambitions, or an obsessive over-devotion to an objective that is merely secondary to a higher good, or through impatience and haste. 

Zeal is not the same as haste for results. When these two very different states become confused, either depression or oppression results. If the zealous person is in a condition of powerlessness to achieve the objective, he or she experiences depression; if the zealous person is in a position of power, others experience persecution from him or her.

Zeal in general and religious zeal, while similar, are different in their sources.  True religious zealousness has its source in God while all other zealousness emanates from within the human heart. My purpose now is to explore Christian zeal with you, our zealous Academicians! To form our proper understanding of it, we gotta turn the microphone over to the Word of God.

Sacred Scripture speaks of the "zeal" of God for us and the "zeal" for God in us. 
God's "zeal" for us describes the uncompromising involvement, love and mercy with which God deals with human beings. This is very evident from many Old Testament passages in which Yahweh is described as having an exclusive relationship with Israel. Yahweh's loving preoccupation with Israel is so great, the sacred books often describe Yahweh as "jealous" for Israel (Exodus 20:5).

Human "zeal" for the Lord God is planted in human hearts by God, in Whom God's people place their trust and hope of salvation. In their human zeal for God, the people of God experience a passionate readiness for the kind of service to God that allows the will of God to control it, even in the face of difficulties (Psalm 69:9; 1 Kings 19:10,14; 2 Kings 15:16)

An Icon Of The Holy Seven Maccabee Children
The perfect Old Testament example of human zeal for God is described for us in the First and Second Books Of Maccabees. 
One of the main causes of Israel's dwindling and corrupted faith in God and His Covenant was the Israelites' acceptance of foreign influence from the Greek cultures. Tense and angry debates delved into how much Hellenism was too much before it erased Judaism.   While these questions occupied the Israelites, one of the major "foreign influences," the Hellenist Seleucids, launched a campaign in 167 BC meant to eliminate Judaism and solidify the domination of Greek culture and religion in Palestine. When Seleucid soldiers attempted to enforce anti-Jewish edicts in the city of Modi'in (about 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem), they met resistance from a local leader, Mattathias Maccabeus A large-scale revolt was organized and directed by Mattathias and his sons: Jonathan, Simon, Judah, Eleazar, and Yohanan --  five of the seven Maccabee sons. The Maccabean Revolt achieved rapid success. Tragically, during the course of the revolt, all of the Maccabees were put to death in the year 168 B.C.  Nonetheless, the revolt succeeded, and at the end of the year 164 BC, the first Festival of Light -- Hanukkah, "inauguration" -- was celebrated in the Temple which the faithful Israelites purified of all pagan cults. 

Ironically, by the year 30 BC, the Maccabean Revolt eventually seemed to have been for nothing. The cause now was internal foreign capitulation: by King Herod The Great.  Herod The Great decreed that the Temple be repaired and restored. Yet, Herod The Great (and his sons after him) also polluted the land of Israel by building cities, pagan temples, theaters, amphitheaters, gymnasiums, hippodromes for games -- all dedicated to praise and find favor with Herod's political backer and Israel's conqueror: the Roman emperor and his thousands of Legions.  Herod The Great died in 4 BC, and Rome decreed that he be succeeded by three of his sons: Herod Antipas was to rule Galilee and the east bank of the Jordan as a Tetrarch ("governor of the fourth part of the larger province and kingdom"); Philip was to be Tetrarch  of the Golan heights in the north-east; and Archelaus became the ethnarch ("national leader") of Samaria and Judaea. 

An Icon of Saint John The Baptizer
But God's loving zeal for His battered People did not end.  As the prophets of the previous ages had told Israel, God promised to send them a Savior, the Christ, who would bring salvation to them and to the whole world.   
In about 5 BC,  Saint John the Baptizer was born to be the last of the prophets, consumed with intense zeal for God and His People, proclaiming that Israel's promised redemption was finally possible: because the Christ has come.  In 33 AD, Herod Antipas completely suppressed Saint John's zeal: by beheading him.

To Be Continued ...

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