Giving our all but without bitter zeal

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

WE need to understand that if we really want to follow Christ, as we should, we should do it by giving our all, willing to leave everything behind, filling ourselves with overwhelming drive to carry out his will and continue his mission here on earth, but without falling into bitter zeal.

This truth of our Christian faith is somehow highlighted in the gospel of the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. (cfr. Lk 9,51-62) As the gospel narrates, two men expressed desire to follow Christ. But when Christ gave them the requirement, they made some excuse.

“Lord, suffer me first to go, and to bury my father,” one said. And the other said, “let me first take my leave of them that are at my house.” That’s when Christ said to the first, “Let the dead bury their dead, and go and preach the kingdom of God.” And to the other, he said, “No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

It’s quite clear that if we want to truly follow Christ, we should be willing to give our all, and to leave everything behind. Anyway, as Christ reassured us, what we seem to have lost because of following Christ, we would regain a hundred-fold later on, and eternal life at the end.

“Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for the sake of My name will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Mt 19,29) We should consider these words of Christ as guaranteed to take place. They are no bluff.

But in all that zeal to follow Christ, we should see to it that we avoid falling into bitter zeal. What we ought to have is righteous zeal which means that we should always be respectful of legal, juridical and most importantly of the moral standards, especially that of charity and mercy.

Bitter zeal was shown by Christ’s disciples, James and John, who reacted badly when a certain city of the Samaritans did not welcome Christ. “Lord, will thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?” they asked. (Lk 9,54) Christ immediately rebuked the brothers. “You know not of what spirit you are,” he said.

While it’s true that we have to be zealous in carrying out the will of God, we have to see to it that our zeal is driven by love. There should be zero bitterness even if a lot of pain and suffering are involved. Authentic love, which can only reflect God’s unconditional love for us, will make things sweet and meaningful.

As St. Paul describes it, true love “takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13,6-7)

We have to learn to be patient in handling the contradicting reactions to all the goodness that we may be doing. We just have to look for an alternative way in resolving issues and situations like this.

We have to be careful with the phenomenon that is called bitter zeal. It is the wrong zeal of intending to do good but discarding the requirements and details of charity. It is Machiavellian in spirit.

Bitter zeal makes a person hasty and reckless in his assessment of things. It makes him fail to consider all angles, to listen to both sides, so to speak. He is prone to imprudence.