Are you holy? Monday, 1st week of Lent – Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18/Matthew 25:31-46
Several times in the Book of Leviticus Yahweh declares, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Read by itself, “you shall be holy” could be a command or a promise. Read as an entire line it is clearly a command. Jesus taught this principle when He said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Right off the bat we need to understand what do we mean by holiness. When translated from Hebrew Qadosh or Greek Haggios the word simply means ‘different’ or ‘set apart’. So, when say this person is holy or this thing is holy what we mean is that this person is set aside by God or this thing is set aside by God or man for a holy purpose. Thus, when we say that the sabbath is holy we communicate the idea that of all the days of the week this day has been set aside for the worship of God. Our actions are meant to be different on this day because God established the sabbath as a day of rest and worship.
Yet we are called to be holy as God is holy. How do we understand this? Clearly God is different, he is holy but not the same way we mean when we say a saint is holy. A saint lived the life that God desires of us. Compared to a saint, God is not some superlative, he is not a superman. God is divine! The way we treat God therefore is different from the way we treat a human person who lived a holy life. Only God is worshipped as holy while a saint is venerated because they lived a holy life. We may admire a holy person but we can only worship God. Therefore, the worship of any human being, no matter how ‘godly’ they may appear or be is sinful.
When we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord” at Mass we turn on a switch. We don’t think of God as father or as a friend or as a creator but more than anything, we cry out to him and praise him for He is holy, he is different. His holiness is distinctive!
In the reading of today, The Lord commanded his people to pursue holiness. We read, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (vv. 1-2). Moses was not called to speak to some people. The call to holiness is not for an exclusive club of people, it is a call for everyone. We are all called to be saints. We may choose not to walk that path but God desires for us to be holy.
Our scripture text forms part of chapters 17-26 of the book of Leviticus. Scholars call this section the Holiness Code. In it, instructions are given to all of Israel as to how they are to maintain holiness in the community. God was preparing the people of Israel for their entrance into Canaan from where they were to become a blessing to the nations. Yet Chapter 19 from which are text is taken is distinctive. The laws that it prescribes are focused on “the congregation of the children of Israel” (v. 2). The first 18 chapters of Leviticus were concerned with corporate holiness, or holiness for the nation of Israel, which was to be achieved by cultic observances. Chapter 19, however, is concerned with individual holiness. It repeats, in some form, most of the Ten Commandments. It defines what it means to be a holy person under God.
In these chapters, there is no distinction between what we might call “religious” concerns and “secular” concerns. All of life matters to God; what we eat, how we do business, how we care for the land, our relationships with family, neighbours, and strangers; all of it matters to God. Holiness is not an act reserved for the temple; it is an attitude that pervades through every aspect of our life.
Contrary to what most people think, holiness is definable, holiness is practical, holiness is even measurable. But further, when it comes to holiness, those, like you and me, who have been redeemed by the grace of God are also responsible. We are to pursue the practice of holiness in our lives. And because of God’s saving grace, we have the power to do so.