Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord, Romans 12:11 (NSRV)
I have recently finished the book Zealot by the religious scholar Reza Aslan. Aslan and his book rose to prominence beyond the theological scholarly community following an interview earlier in the year on the Fox News network (you can Google Aslan and “Fox interview” if you want to see what I am talking about). As an inquisitive and discerning Christian I wanted to know what the book was all about, what the fuss was. Unlike it was for the interviewer on Fox, the fact that Aslan is a Muslim does not present any particular challenges for me, far more important is what new insight he brings to this 2,000 year old discussion. That said I did not find Aslan’s work to be filled with a lot of new ideas. To be fair Aslan has chosen a well–plowed field of scholarship and much of what he discusses has already been covered in Thomas Cahill’s far more readable work: Desire of the Everlasting Hills while many of the details of Paul’s life and influence that Aslan considers are more fully addressed in John Dominic Crossan’s In Search of Paul.
Where I did find Aslan’s work particularly engaging and challenging was at those points in his work where he, in support of his overall thesis, places Jesus squarely into the Zealot tradition (a position at odds with the aforementioned Cahill). There are mixed views in the academic world as to whether or not Jesus was truly a Zealot within the meaning of the word, at least as it was understood at the time but author Reza Aslan is at his best when explaining why Jesus’ life and experience still fits the overall model.
Paul in his letter to the Romans urges his readers to be zealous for the Lord. I feel in my heart that Jesus wants me, wants all of us, to be strong advocates for our Faith, to work for good. In spite of this I fail at being a Zealot far more than I succeed. In fact, not only am I not personally a Zealot I tend to be suspicious of fellow Christians who seem to me to be overly zealous – I am no Zealot but I hope to be…
Dear Lord, grant me the courage and the wisdom to be zealous for you. Help me to overcome my own fears and discomfort and to be strong and deliberate in sharing the promise of redemption that can only come through acceptance of your son and his love for us.