Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On Becoming a Discipled Zealot

"What is your response to militant Islam?" I recently asked this question to a devoted follower of the Bahá’í religion who spoke frequently of his involvement in inter-faith work. He had mentioned in an earlier conversation that the greatest problem of religion was fanaticism. Again his response was the same, "They are fanatics." His argument was based on the belief that many of the major religions were virtually similar, that fanaticism was religion gone awry and that all religions warned against fanaticism. "Fanatic" seemed to be the term for someone whose religion could not be unified in the grand scheme of many faiths, for the one who had made their faith the all-consuming passion of their life.

As we spoke, the words of the gospels resounded in my head. I could not agree that the gospel warned against fanaticism. To the contrary, gospel discipleship was solidifying in my mind with Christ's timeless words, "Unless a man take up his cross daily and follow me, he cannot be my disciple." When Our Lord called to Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the Sea of Galillee, saying, "Come, follow me," they left their boats immediately and followed. Peter and Andrew were fanatics.

Jesus preached a radical gospel that demanded utter abandonment and complete devotion. As soon as the story became following Christ and following..., the Christ was lost. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." The cost of discipleship is everything. We sell all for our one prized possession -- Jesus Christ. We are as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Our call is to unadulterated devotion, simple obedience and steadfast zeal.

May we pray to become zealots - full of fervor and staid in passion.

While zeal is often pitted against the intellect, Solomon testifies to the importance of maintaining a continuity between the life of the mind and the zeal of the heart. "It isn't good to have zeal without knowledge," he writes. Christ's zealot must not forsake the knowledge and discernment necessary to complement his fervor.

May we pray to become discerning zealots - rightly handling the word of truth.

In addition, it is a common tendency for a zealot to complement his fervor with pride. Perhaps this was the case of the young rich ruler who came to Christ and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Professing to the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments, the young man is told to sell all of his posssessions and follow Jesus. That is the humbling thing about discipleship: no matter how far you have followed, there is still another step further.

May we pray to become humble zealots - aware of the continual call.

As expressed in my recent conversation with the Bahá’í, one of the greatest preconceptions about a fanatic zealot is that they love their ideas to the point of hating their fellow man. When the neighbor interferes with the zealots' idea, the neighbor becomes subject to militant force. How beautiful that the ultimate expression of gospel discipleship may be found in the words of Christ, "No man has greater love than this - that he lay down his life for his friend."

May we pray to become loving zealots - even to the point of death.