So, I love high holy days. They are exciting and have such a significance in humans’ ritual life.
The holy days that I am talking about are spelt H-O-L-Y-D-A-Y-S. These are high seasons that
get me so excited I get goose bumps. In my Christian walk there are two such high seasons of
significance to my faith – Christmas and Easter. The Advent of the Holy One of God in the
Christmas season is so exciting to track and all the rituals that we enact as we track the
chronology of the birth of the One who chose to be human and tabernacle here with us. Easter,
oh Easter is another one which of late I have been so eager to minutely disassemble and track
each of the steps leading to the pinnacle of what is at the centre of our faith – THE CROSS.
As recent as when I got the chance to preach to you, and as one of some of the Lenten
practices I do, I was tracking Jesus’ journey to Golgotha in the Christian High Season of Easter.
What I got, out of what we call the Passion Week, is that at the heart of our faith is the Paschal
Mystery: the Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. All this was enacted in
an interesting timeline. The road to the Resurrection begins six days before Passover. If we
were to follow this road, this year, we will have a timeline which from Sunday to Sunday, as
given by Andreas Kostenberger, will read like this:
Sunday, March 29 [a.k.a. Palm Sunday]: Jesus triumphantly enters the city of Jerusalem,
mounted humbly on a donkey in keeping with prophetic messianic prediction. He later predicts
his impending death and teaches at the Temple.
Monday, March 30: Jesus curses a fig tree, symbolizing spiritually barren Israel, and cleanses
the Jerusalem Temple, possibly for the second time, in prophetic fashion. He thus acts as the
one who is going to restore proper worship as the replacement and fulfillment of the Temple.
Tuesday, March 31: Jesus teaches his followers a lesson about the fig tree he cursed the
previous day. He continues to teach on the Temple grounds and engages in various
controversies with the Jewish leaders. He also predicts the future preceding his return in his
Wednesday, April 1: Little is known about Jesus’ whereabouts at the midpoint of the week. The
Gospel narratives only mention the unfolding plot by the Jewish authorities against Jesus. But
this is only the quiet before the storm that is brewing and that will shortly turn into a hurricane.
Thursday, April 2 a.k.a. Maundy Thursday: Jesus and his followers engage in preparations for
celebrating the Jewish Passover, Jesus’ Last Supper at which he institutes a new covenant with his new messianic community, the remnant of the new Israel. Judas the Betrayer leaves the
Upper Room, and Jesus instructs the remaining eleven apostles in some depth. Later, Jesus
agonizes over his impending death in the Garden of Gethsemane. Subsequently, Peter denies
Jesus three times, in keeping with Jesus’ earlier prediction.
Friday, April 3 [a.k.a. Good Friday]: After nightfall, Jesus is betrayed and arrested. He is
subjected to trials before the Jewish and Roman authorities. At the beckoning of the Jewish
leaders, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, pronounces a “guilty verdict” against his better
judgment. Jesus is crucified.
Saturday, April 4: The Jewish Sabbath extends from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.
Nothing is known about the whereabouts of the disciples. Most likely, they went into hiding for
fear of the Jewish authorities. They latter ask Pilate for permission to secure Jesus’ tomb.
Sunday, April 5: When several female disciples of Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, approach
his tomb, they find it empty. Later, Jesus appears to Mary, as well as ten of the apostles, and
several others. This is the Lord’s Day, Resurrection Sunday!
And that completes a week consequential to my faith.
There are nuggets to pick from this week and today’s Gospel reading coming from John 2
chronologically places us on Monday, March 30 and I would like to zero in on a particular nugget
in what happened in the cleansing of the temple. There is one particular phrase “Zeal for your
house will consume me,” and in particular one word “zeal” which is a nugget I would like to
dwell on today. All that Jesus did in today’s Gospel is embodied in this word whose Greek
rendering ζῆλος is a direct transliteration of the very same word in English - “zeal.” In today’s
Gospel reading, the definition of this word in Jesus’ circumstances can be both good and bad for
it is rendered as earnest concern, a deeply devoted intensity, which at the same time can be
rendered jealousy, envy, resentment coming to a situation with extremity, intensity,
fierceness, and rage once one has set one’s heart on something. One is described as
deeply committed to something through this word, and once one has a deep concern for an
issue, there can be a burning desire to see a deed done whether it is right or wrong. It can also
lead one to covet, to desire another’s possessions. Being jealous and being envious overlap in
the use of this word. It can describe enthusiasm, adherence, zealotry, and even bigoted
nationalism. Yes we even have those in the order of Zealots of in the mold of Simon, Jesus’
disciple who was called the Zealot in Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13, coming into play here.
So, what am I getting at? I am saying to you this Lent that the Bible is providing us sound basis
for enthusiasm in our Christian walk. Here is how the Apostle Paul states it: “And whatsoever
ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and NOT unto any human” (Colossians 3:23); “alway abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58); “zealous unto good works” (Titus 2:14);
and “your zeal hath encouraged many” (2 Corinthians 9:2). In Revelations the Apostle John
commanded the Laodiceans to be “zealous, therefore, and repent” (Revelations 2:19).
It is interesting to further note that “zeal” and “zealous” come from a Greek word which means “to
boil; to seethe.” An enthusiastic person boils inside; and then it spills over to peak performance.
In the Book of Wisdom, the sage says, “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,”
(Ecclesiastes 9:10). And I would observe that some people verbalize their inability to be
enthusiastic. I don’t believe there is a person who hasn’t been excited or got enthusiastic about
something. A raise in salary, an award, vacation, promotion, birth of a child, opportunity, or some
other event in life creates zeal by its very nature, what we need in God’s church is enthusiasm
for the mission God has given to God’s people. This guarantees peak performance when
matters that requires zeal are at play.
Today we have an example on how to put zeal into play as exhibited by him who we are to
imitate, Christ himself, who making a whip of cords, drove out all the money changers, poured
out the coins, overturned their tables and told those who were selling the doves, “Take these
things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Some seething haa! So,
what causes such rage, such zeal, such enthusiasm when one sees such transgression in the
The lectionary’s Scripture for today has some answers. You see what we have in the Old
Testament reading are the precepts the Father gave to us and the seething we see comes
informed by them. What we are given is what is commonly known as The Ten Commandments (The
Decalogue) and in them resides God’s moral law stated in short, summarized form. The Ten
Commandments remain indispensable even up to date because they are a resume of morality; a
restraint on evil; a revealer of sin; a regulator of believers’ (Christians’) behaviour; and a road
map to happiness. In them are a covenant that is set in such a way that we have irrevocable
promises which when we adhere to them and let our lives be guided and led by them, we are
guaranteed of the promises therein.
You see, I am not going to go deep into the Decalogue but just scrap the surface in the hope
that from that we can see from whence the zeal we see in Jesus and those who follow him
comes from. The Decalogue is covenantal in nature, those that have studied contract law in here
today will be glad to note some of the things that covenant cutting parties do in commerce today is copied from the covenant cutting principles we see in the giving of the Decalogue.
In the Ancient Near East when covenants were cut, this was such a serious business because lives
depended on it and a person’s word was a person’s bond. In the cutting of these covenants, the
ones that are in the mould of the cutting of the decalogue, in covenants such as the ones we see
Abraham having in Genesis; the covenant-making parties would cut beasts into two and then
pass in between the cut pieces, calling down on themselves a curse. In doing so one would
express a wish that they might become as the slain beasts of the covenant ceremony should
they reject the covenant. This symbolic action represented the dire consequences that would
occur upon breach of the covenant should any occur, and they were made absolutely clear in
the covenant itself. Vice versa though, blessings would follow the person who kept their side of
the covenant. The covenant happening in today’s OT reading was a covenant between Yahweh
(the king/suzerain) and his people Israel (the vassals). The Decalogue has many parallels with
so much of the secular covenants we have become accustomed to these days. When covenants
were made in the Ancient Near East (ANE) a pattern was followed. The preamble of the king is
1. The historical prologue in which past relations between the two parties are
2. The treaty stipulations (a) General principles, (b) Specific stipulations
3. The treaty sanctions, curses, and blessings.
4. The witnesses – gods will guarantee the treaty 2
There is another element that is missing where this treaty document with the original things
discussed on the treaty making will be deposited in the temple for periodic public reading. This
treaty signing tradition gave us the Decalogue, and Moses kept the Decalogue he got off Mount
Sinai in the Arch of the Covenant in the same manner that a king making the laws, during that
time would erect a monument for the covenant and also have a list of curses on those who
break the laws.
So, what we read today in Exodus 20 is what we see in a streak of all Old Testament covenants
such as those in Deuteronomy 5, Joshua 24 and 1 Samuel 12. Here they take a form of “(1) a
historical prologue; (2) covenant stipulations containing (a) basic principles (b) detailed
stipulations; (3) a document clause requiring the recording and sometimes the renewal of the
covenant; (4) blessings; (5) curses; (6) recapitulation of the main covenant demand.” Because
today, I am not focussing on that, I will end by saying that such covenants were strong
documents which bound the suzerain, Yahweh (the king), to the vassals, the people, and in this
case the people of Israel. If anything happened to the vassals, the suzerain would swiftly come
to the help of the vassals, because within the covenant were ironclad precepts that both signing
parties adhered to.
So, even the Psalmist, in the Psalm that we sang so beautifully today, acknowledges the power
of the precepts. The Psalmist says:
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the LORD are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure,
the ordinances of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Thus, inspired thus, those that follow Yahweh, informed by Yahweh’s precepts, are stirred into
action when they see something being done that does not go with what is right within the
suzerain’s eyes, they seethe with the rage that is informed by such zeal. Jesus did this upon
encountering the misuse of God’s house and seeing all the abuse and misuse of God’s house.
So, as I close, what am I deciphering as the Word of God is trying to tell us today? Am I saying
that we should have a blind zeal driven by the precepts of the Lord, that we should pick up the
Decalogue and follow it literary with blind zealotry? Well, a story recorded during Jesus’ ministry
might help as I come to my closing. The story goes like:
6 Then someone came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal
life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is
good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You
shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor
as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus
said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this
word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
I am asking the same question here this Lent in the form of “what should you do in your zeal for
the Lord?” The young rich man thought that by keeping the precepts of the Lord that we have
just said are the ones that inform your zeal should be enough. Not only did he find that Jesus
was asking his zeal to be informed more by what one of my favourite verse in the bible, Micah
6:8 says, “O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and
to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Let your zeal for the Lord this Lenten
season be informed by God’s precepts which are informed by that which the world sees as
foolish and which God at the same time chose to shame the wise, because God’s foolishness is
wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
My question to you today is that in your zeal for the Lord, as you do justice, love kindness, and
to walk humbly with your God informed by the precepts of God which are perfect, pure, simple,
reviving the soul, what is it about? Is it about doing? I am asking this question because I know
that we have been told so many times that in Lent it is all about stopping. Well, today I am all
about starting, because it is all about doing!
Christ did not let up, Christ let the enthusiasm, the jealous, the fury, the zeal fully seethe in
him and he went on and did something about the abuse of his Father’s house. The zeal
consumed him in a transformative way. What will you do in order to guarantee peak
performance when matters that requires zeal in the kingdom of God have to be addressed this
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Mother of us all – AMEN.
1 Andreas Kostenberger, What Happenned During The Final Weeks of Jesus?. Biblical Foundations. 2021, Accessed 6 March 2021. https://www.biblicalfoundations.org/the-final-week-of-jesus/
2 Thompson from G. E. Mendenhall in Law & Covenant in Israel & the Ancient Near East. 1974. p.17