One of those great Lenten threads resurfaces in the Psalm at Mass today. We first heard it from the disciples’ lips on the third Sunday of Lent (John 2:17), and it appears again in the Lectionary for Wednesday of Holy Week:
… zeal for your house consumes me
It’s a favorite of those who might advocate an angry Christianity: Jesus was anti-business in a violent way, so I can (choose from the multiples) (a) be opposed to the excesses of capitalism, (b) show anger to my … I mean Jesus’ opponents, (c) pray mean words and not feel guilty, (d) all of the above.
I recall reading a commentary somewhere this Lent recommending we don’t read John 2:17 as a justification for anger. When we look at Psalm 69 as a whole, it’s not an angry piece. It’s a lament. The psalmist exhausts twenty-one verses before suggesting six verses of various punishments for those who have insulted God’s servant, and by extension, God, too.
The zeal is not a zeal then that acts in aggression (however justified) against the faithless. The zeal is what has landed God’s faithful servant in the whole mess to begin with.
The point of Psalm 69 is not that Jesus endorses our human emotional excesses if placed with good intentions. Read the whole psalm, and not just the snacky bit the disciples quote. It’s one of the longer psalms, and it contains a wide range of passions set to use not against one’s enemies, but in prayer to God. Psalm 22 is the song for Palm Sunday and Psalm 31 draws attention on Good Friday. If the Psalter had lacked either of them, I’m sure Psalm 69 would have been the third choice for the suffering and Passion of Christ.