There were Zealots in Palestine.
They rallied and wrote that God was on their side. They needed no evidence, because God spoke to their hearts. These zealous men believed they could do foolish things until only a miracle could save them and then a miracle would save them. They were men of the heart cut off from the head and their hands would do bloody deeds in God’s name.
These lunatics and shysters believed God had told them to rebel against Rome and that the blessings He had given Moses and the Maccabees would be their own. They were doomed to Masada. They were wrong and sane Jewish people, waiting for deliverance from the world, the flesh, and devils, knew they were wrong, but in the despair of hard times sometimes wished they were right.
Even Insanity can be desirable in hard times.
Yet this insanity, this mishearing of God, was a grift of lesser men. These conmen had failed to rise in the ranks of the establishment, so ran an opposition to get power. That con soon went too far, when people believed the lies they told about God. Some of the folks took their rhetoric seriously and rebelled against Rome.
The zealous led the pious toward doom by making them irrational extremists. As a result, the Faithful, though tempted, rejected their rallies, their rebellion.
They appealed to the heart, seemed so much like the pious of by gone days, but they were shadows of those strong people. They were right not to compromise with the spirit of the age, but wrong to reject reason. Zealots ended up equally compromised by being a mirror image of the tyrant’s spirit. The Zealots were not defined by the long and organic tradition of God’s people, but by reaction to the evils of that time. God’s people can never be reactionary, because the Faithful look to the eternal good, truth, and beauty of the Kingdom of God and not to who is winning the world just now.
The Zealot at least dies for his sins, but the compromised, the lackey to the Establishment, has an easier road to Hell.
There were then, as n0w, the part of the Jewish people that the Romans could accept, hear, and use. These folk read all the right books (Plato! Seneca! Cicero!). They could hang with the Romans and were not offended by their art or culture. If Jewish civilization vanished, if theological compromise destroyed the religion, the Sadducees would earn the equivalent of tenure in some third-rate administrative job tolerated by the real powers. They were unimportant unless the powerful needed somebody to crush the Zealots.
They were smug, secure in long sinecure, and always finding a way to move with Rome. These cosseted “leaders” pretended that the locals, in their zeal tending to the Zealots, were the real power to oppose. They would crush any movement tending to Zealotry to avoid offending the powerful. When the faithful groaned, they could posture as bold and brave in helping the Romans silence the local Jewish people.
The Zealots, as wrong as they could be, would point to the Sadducees, as compromised as they could be, and justify themselves to the rural folks. “At least,” they said, “we are not them.” The Sadducees would look at the bleeding disaster of Zealotry, the lies, the mistakes, the cultural errors, and feel vindicated and the urban folk followed them. “At least,” they said, “we are not them.”
They were all deceived.
Against the Zealots and the Sadducees there is Mary: brave, orthodox, womanly, saying “yes” to God.
Mary found no friends in those who compromise the Law, yet she would have been killed by the legalists. After all, she was pregnant and unmarried. Mary found no admirers amongst those who obsessed over the Law, yet she would have been ignored by the powerful. She was too rural, clinging to the Torah and Jewish history.
She was faithful, but not reactionary. She was zealous for God’s law, but not a Zealot. The Mother of God, Mary, rejected the Pharisees and the Zealots. She had a Son, taught Him, and so restored David’s throne. She undercut the Zealots who looked for an earthly kingdom and the Sadducees who accepted the wisdom of the age. She refused the theological accommodation to the spirits of the age and raised her boy to not be a Sadducee. Jesus was a great rabbi, but he would not have been published at a contemporary college: too traditional given that He looked to Father God. The modern zealots would reject Him, because of His compassion, His refusal to make winning the ultimate goal, and His merciful Kingdom.
Ignore anyone who would use the errors of the Zealots or the Sadducees to make you choose between them.
Instead, offend all the powers, reject all the grift, and pick the way of Mary. Reject heterodoxy and reactionary paths.
This is the Way that leads to Christmas.