A zealot is someone with strong beliefs who wishes to convince others to believe with them. How much good could we do if we Christians were zealots too…
I – like many other millions of people around the world – have been watching a Christian production on the life of Christ from the perspective of the Gospels, directed by Dallas Jenkins, called “The Chosen”.
Jenkins is a Baptist Christian, and though he is not Catholic, his perspective on the humanity and his beautiful presentation of the stories of the Gospel has so far been so insightful to me that it routinely brings me to tears… In this too – I see the greatness of God – who uses ALL things for the good.
In the Episode 5 of Season 2 of this program, Simon, the Zealot, was introduced as an apostle of Christ. “Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, AND SIMON CALLED ZELOTES, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.” (Luke 6:14–16, emphasis added).
Though very little is known about Simon, it is possible that he was a member of the Zealots prior to joining Christ, just as it is also possible that he later became the first bishop of Jerusalem. The Zealots were a Jewish political and religious movement at the time of Christ, who worked for the violent overthrow of the Roman Empire within the province of Judea.
The modern definition of the word zealot is often considered synonymous with the word fanatic. Basically, in todays’ world, a fanatic is a person is of uncompromising political, religious or other opinion. William Butler Yeats, who wrote realist-symbolist poetry at the turn of the 20th century, referred to the dangers of fanaticism in his modern biographical poem, “Easter 1916”, when he said, “Hearts with one purpose alone through summer and winter seem enchanted to a stone to trouble the living stream.”
In other words, Yeats saw fanatics as trouble. It is not very hard to see why. You have only to look today at modern examples of fanaticism to realise how much trouble these unmoving ones cause in the world. Terrorists are the prime example of this as they are so uncompromising in their ideals and beliefs that they are willing to even end life – their own and others – for their cause.
I have been reflecting on this concept of zealotry, thinking of its similarities and differences in relation to fanaticism over the last few weeks or so, since I first watched that episode of “The Chosen”.
And as I was reflecting on this concept, it occurred to me that there is in fact quite a difference between zealotry and fanaticism.
I even looked it up…
The Oxford English dictionary defines a zealot as “a person who has very strong opinions about something, and tries to make other people have them too.” It defines a fanatic as “a person who has very extreme beliefs that may lead them to behave in unreasonable or violent ways.”
Zealotry and fanaticism are different things, and that difference makes all the difference! While fanatics use violence to achieve their extremist beliefs, zealots use persuasion to convince people to accept their strong opinions.
Upon further reflection, it seems that in trying so hard to avoid being labelled a fanatic, I have in fact, veered so far away from zealotry, that I wonder if I am anything more than one of the “Hollow men, stuffed men, headpiece filled with straw…” that TS Eliot wrote about in the early 20th century in his Modern poem, “The Hollow Men”.
What have I done to show my beliefs?
Look at Saint Joan of Arc... She was a teenage girl who had visions of Christ and led a French army against the English in the name of Christ, and who in 1431 after having done all of this when she was only 19 years old, was burned at the stake as a witch heretic and adulteress for political reasons. Joan was later exonerated of her convicted crimes and called a martyr by Pope Callixtus III.
Saint Joan was a zealot. She very strongly believed in Christ and wanted others to believe in Him also. Her very last words were, “I pray you, go to the nearest church and bring me the cross, and hold it up with the level of my eyes until I am dead. I would have the cross on which God hung before my eyes while life lasts in me… Jesus, Jesus.”
For Saint Joan had Grace. I know this, because Grace is the way that God empowers us – giving us strength in our brokenness…
And that Grace helped Joan to remain a zealot – even until the final breath of her life…
If only I could be a zealot like Joan for then, I could draw others closer to Christ, my Beloved… How holy my life would be…
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.