John 2:13-17 (NRSV)
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
Mrs. Knight, my sixth grade teacher, gave me nightmares. She was an awesome presence, with bulging ink-black eyes, quivering jowls, and hair pulled back tight as if to accentuate her terrible countenance. She ruled over us from a desk on a platform in front of the room, under a mounted bald eagle that peered down over the class with a second set of all-seeing eyes. This teacher tolerated no nonsense. She marched up and down the rows of chairs while we did our work, slapping a ruler against the palm of her hand. Chewing gum discovered in a thoughtless mouth would be worn on one's nose the rest of the day. We feared every surprise handkerchief inspection and dreaded the long march to the rest room at the end of the hall to acquire paper towels to use as tissue. Most of us feared being called on to recite a memorized definition from the glossary of our English book, or to diagram a sentence on the blackboard as everyone watched.
One day, near the end of that long-ago year, we held a school dance. Mrs. Knight surprised us by stepping out onto the floor in our midst to share a long, slow, lovely dance with our gym teacher. A smile lit her face, and a surprising grace carried her around the floor.
Many years later I attended a reception on the occasion of Mrs. Knight's retirement, and I was amazed at how small she was, how kind her welcome. Hundreds of her former students attended, all to testify to how her class had changed their lives. She confessed that all she wanted was for her students to strive for excellence, to acquire an appreciation for knowledge and skill. She would not allow us to settle for anything less than the best we could be. It could be said that "zeal for her house consumed her."
She was Jesus, I think. Driven by love, she fulfilled a covenant of perfection, embodied the commandments that would make us all better, perhaps even make the world better. We trembled at such a master, honored her. But then - ah, the dancing!
Holy God, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep - or silly students. Thank you for expecting glory from us, for demanding that we be as good as you made us to be. But once in a while, show us the joy in your zeal. Dance with us! Amen.