Zeal (zḗlos) | reflection / word study

Great enthusiasm or eagerness are the words used by the Cambridge dictionary to
define zeal. The Greek zḗlos is an onomatopoeic term that mimics the sound of
water bubbling from heat and perhaps derived from zéō, “to boil”. The image of a
bubbling pan of water is one we are likely all familiar with.

When we look at the well-known passage of Jesus cleansing the temple in John 2,
we see Jesus consumed by zeal, addressing the misuse of the temple, his Father’s
house, perhaps catching those around him and the disciples off guard. Jesus totally
consumed by his Father’s will. Many have asked the question did Jesus go too far?
Perhaps we find a more calm, quiet, and polite Jesus more acceptable, perhaps we
need to be prepared to let go of some preconceptions we have about our Lord, ones
that fit with what we prefer, ones we are comfortable with. Perhaps we could be open
to a deeper revelation, not one we have worked out for ourselves, but one revealed
to us as we learn and receive of Jesus in word and sacrament. Jesus is filled with
zeal, different to anger, he is zealous, the pan is boiling, there is energy and agency,
but it has not boiled over, control has not been lost. He rebukes and challenges,
reforms, and cleanses, often acting in unexpected ways but always in love and

Our circumstances can drain our energy and our zeal can be lost. The bubbles in the
boiling pan can cease to bubble. This lent as we take time to pause, reflect and
refocus on Christ, my prayer is that our Lord will bestow upon us a new zeal; for life
and for the gospel as we prepare for Easter.

Written by Simon Earnshaw, St Mellitus