Are you a zealot? You think not? Then let me ask an easier question. Do you know any zealots? I have known many. A person who is zealous is a person who is extreme, excessive, fanatic. We might think of Simon the Zealot, as he was called. He was one of the twelve disciples if you did not know. The zealots back then were devoted to the idea of an independent Israel, free of the Roman yoke. They practiced guerilla warfare, or as the Romans called it, terrorism and murder. We might better call them revolutionaries if we want to be kind.
At first, the only zealots I could think of was the current crop of Islamic fanatics and terrorists, but then I realized that the root word for zealot was zeal which implies energetic or intense enthusiasm for a cause or ardent devotion. With that, it occurred to me that the word zealot might be applied to more than just revolutionaries.
I saw Jean Shepherd’s Christmas Story as part of my Christmas in July celebration, and I realized that little Ralphie was a zealot. He wanted that Red Ryder BB gun, and everything he said and did, and everything others said and did was interpreted and perceived in relationship to that want. A true fanatic: intense, energetic enthusiasm and ardent devotion to the cause.
I know a fair number of professional musicians—serious professionals who are devoted to their instrument and practice every day, without fail. At least they feel horrible when they miss a day. I also know a fair number of professional athletes who are devoted to the game, or at least improving their game. They also practice every day—at least every day they can.
When we start applying this thinking to us ordinary folk, we have another perspective. We tend to attach the word “aholic” to it and treat it like it is a disease or certainly a bad thing. He is a workaholic. She is a shopaholic. I suppose you could be a dietaholic, an exercizeaholic, a sportsaholic though we rather use the words sports enthusiast or sports fanatic in the latter case. But the concept is the same.
So now, do you know any zealots? I bet you do. You might even be one in some way. But here now, we get to the dictionary synonyms:
Zealot: Extreme or excessive devotion to a cause.
Fanatic: Unreasonable effort to carry out one’s beliefs.
Enthusiast: Animated by an intense and eager interest in the cause
Bigot: Blind and intolerant devotion to one’s beliefs.
It is the last one that made me pause. It came to my mind that every human being on the planet is zealous for his or her own worldview. We perceive the world through our own lens and believe reality (life, the universe and everything) works a certain way. And it is perfectly natural and understandable to believe our worldview, if not exactly right, is the best one there is. And we defend our worldview, and sometimes not in kind ways. We feel if there was a better understanding of the way life works, we would be wise enough to adopt it. Actually, even to see such a thing would require a revelation, and as for adopting it, that would take a true conversion experience…but that is another story.
Here, Martha only saw the world her way, and she was zealous in her worldview. Lazy men drink beer and discuss the ballgame and the women prepare the meal and do all the work. Boy! Isn’t that a wordview ripe for some revelation and conversion both for Martha and the lazy men who agree with Martha?
Mary was zealous, too. She was excessively devoted to her Lord. She wanted wisdom and as such, she must have known that Martha was going to complain. She probably imagined the disciples sitting around likely agreed with Martha. She did not care. She was at the feet of Jesus. She was receiving the things of God.
Make no mistakes here: Jesus did not in any way condemn Martha. All her doing and fussing was right, good, true and there was nothing wrong with her hospitality. Hospitality is a good and wonderful thing. BUT, Jesus also said Mary chose the better thing: to sit at Jesus’ feet while she could and receive the Word of God.
You know, I think God might appreciate some zealous devotion in his direction now and then. So, Okay. You are zealous for how you perceive reality (your worldview) and you may also be zealous to some part of this world, like sports or cooking or eating or work or shopping or… But are you zealous for God? Are you zealous for the Word of God? And when was the last time you could honestly say that about yourself?