What can we say on the subject of Jesus’ “zealous.” John provides us a helpful saying, specifically in the context of the cleansing of the Temple that answers this question precisely and thoroughly. John tells us that, at the time of the cleansing of the Temple, the disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (Jn 2, 17). This is taken from the great “Passion Psalm” (Ps 69). Living according to God’s word leads to the psalmist’s isolation. For him it becomes an additional source of suffering imposed upon him by the enemies who surround him: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck … It is for your sake that I have borne reproach … Zeal for your house has consumed me …” (Ps 69, 1.7.9).
In the Psalmist (just man) exposed to suffering, the memory of the disciples recognised Jesus that the ‘zeal’ for God’s house leads him to the Passion, to the Cross. This is the fundamental transformation that Jesus brought to the theme of “zeal” – zelos. Because during the Old Testament as well as Jesus’ time “zeal” points to the ‘Zealots.’ And this zealot movement looked to the priest Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, for its biblical foundation. Historical reference for them is – Phinehas had run his spear through an Israelite who had become involved with an idolatrous woman. He was considered a model for those who were “zealous” for the Law, for the worship of God alone (cf. Num 25). Now through these actions and sayings at the Temple Jesus transformed the “zeal” that would serve God through violence into the zeal of the Cross. Thus he definitively established the criterion for true zeal – the zeal of self-giving love, which in turn becomes the goal of every Christian.