Zealous but Ignorant
Focus Text: Luke 20:27-38; Job 19:23-27
Those of us who serve young people, face the challenge of resolving issues arising from their uncanny ability to “paint” scenarios that are extreme and far from reality in response to our teachings. Their minds are fertile grounds for bubbly ideas and, since one of the joys of their age is the ability to start thinking in abstract terms, it would seem they utilize this to the fullest in their adolescent years. Think of any topic and you can be sure that the “what if…?” questions will be apparent. These questions are designed by these brilliant young minds to “catch” the teacher. It still remains a puzzle how they quickly fabricate scenarios just to challenge the teacher’s ideas!
While I can adapt myself to the idea that the “what if…?” question is a product of the “active imagination” of young people that should be encouraged, I cannot possibly do the same for adults who pose such “catch” questions and justify their ignorance.
This is the kind of picture that played itself out in today’s reading. Our text in Luke 20 tells of a challenge to Jesus’ authority by some religious leaders (v.1-2). When Jesus seemingly defeated them, they wanted to attack him and take him away. Because they feared a revolt (v.19), they sent spies who would pretend to be genuine seekers to ask him questions. They hoped that this would make him commit errors in his response, by speaking against the authorities and thereby get him arrested. That again did not work (v.26).
Then the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, did not want to be outdone by the others. So they came to him with a ridiculous story of how seven men married a woman at different times and left her childless. “Whose would she be in the resurrection?” they asked. They were sure Jesus would not wriggle out of this theological “trap.” Their intention was to portray the resurrection doctrine as illogical and unrealistic, and thus worthless. They were not only ignorant and unwilling to accept the truth, but were insistent on justifying their position and disparaging the claims of Christ.
The response of Jesus however exposed their ignorance. In fact, in the narrative of the same event by Mark (Mk. 12:18-27), Jesus said “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (v.24). In spite of their theological learning and zeal to proclaim this, they were in error. They were zealous but ignorant.
If we examine some of the faith responses to issues surrounding HIV, e.g. injustice, stigmatization, inequality etc., we also see outcomes informed by righteous zeal, which are nevertheless ill-informed.
It reminds me of the story of Job and his friends. Did the friends mean well? Absolutely! They were zealous for God’s image and honor and desired to help their friend. But was their intervention helpful? Absolutely not!
It is possible to respond to HIV issues with great zeal, aiming to please God and help those infected and affected by the virus, but to do it in uninformed and even harmful ways.
A way out of this dilemma is to seek genuine training on how to respond comprehensively, competently and correctly. One such programme is the Churches, Channels of Hope (CCoH) training by CABSA, which assists faith communities in their response to HIV. The training equips participants with the requisite knowledge and skills but, more importantly, it equips them with appropriate attitudes to respond to the needs within our congregations and communities. To respond as God would have us to in the context of HIV and AIDS, we say YES to zeal but ignorance in these days is inexcusable.
To think about: Imagine what would happen if all who desire to make a difference to the HIV story especially in sub-Saharan Africa did so with enhanced training, appropriate skills and better attitudes.
Written by: ‘Tunde Fowe, Executive Director, Family Impact (Nigeria and West Africa), Churches, Channels of Hope Training team member and CABSA representative