In today’s Gospel Jesus corrects his disciples who want to imitate Elijah’s violent way to combat evil. Jesus’ way is one of nonviolence. St. Francis de Sales notes:
Some people think that in order to have great zeal or fervor you need to have great anger. Our Lord made his disciples understand that his spirit and ardor to eliminate evil in the world, was mild and gracious. While we must hate the sin, we must love the sinner. The following story from a 6th C monk illustrates this point.
Once a pagan influenced a Christian to return to idolatry. Angered by this turn of events, Carpus, supposedly a bishop and a man known for his sanctity of life prayed that the two men might no longer live. When this did not happen he became enraged and cursed them. Our Savior appeared to Carpus, and moved by great pity for the two men, stretched out his helping hand to them.
Carpus’ zeal, or ardor to eradicate evil, justly aroused his anger. But once aroused, his anger left reason and zeal behind. His anger transgressed all bounds and limits of holy love and consequently of zeal, which is holy love’s fervor. His anger turned hatred of sin into hatred of the sinner, and gentlest charity into raging cruelty.
The most excellent exercise of zeal consists in enduring difficulties in order to prevent evil as Jesus did in his death on the cross. Holy zeal is especially a quality of divine love that makes so many of God’s servants watch, labor, and die amid those flames of zeal. Whereas false zeal is troubled, choleric, arrogant and unstable, true zeal is ardor or fervor without hatred, and is mild, gracious, diligent, and untiring. Happy are those who know how to control their zeal with the love of Jesus Christ, Who urges us on.
(Adapted from St. Francis De Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God)