Not just the sanctuary or sacristy – Monday, 1st Week of Lent – Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18/ Matthew 25:31-46

If you are a Lenten observer then I suggest you spend time reading both the texts of sacred scripture that are proclaimed at Mass each day. They have been carefully brought together to express with clarity the mind of God and the mind of the Church. The texts of today are a case in point.

Leviticus 19 opens with the words, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Right away this seems like a tall order. We can barely get through our day without sin and even Proverbs 24:16 tells us that even a righteous man falls seven times a day. Yet there is a command that God makes, “You shall be holy.”

Holiness is not the only command that is given to us in Leviticus. The text of today forms part of a larger section that spans from chapters 17-27 of the book of Leviticus. Scholars call this section the ‘holiness code.’ Chapter 19 itself, from which our text is taken, mirrors and reiterates most of the commandments found in Exodus 20. God, it seems, is not satisfied with us being ‘good’ he demands more; he demands holiness.

Holiness is sadly understood as personal sanctification. I have to be without sin to be saved. But read Leviticus 19 and Matthew 25:31-46 and you will be surprised that for God, the business of holiness extends from the sanctuary and continues to every aspect of human life.

In Greek, the word for holy is ‘haggios’ which translates as ‘different.’ We are God’s holy people and so we are called to be different. In this sense Leviticus 19: 1-2 tells us that our ‘holy’ God is different from other gods and the Lord our God demands that we too are holy.

Why is good not enough to enter heaven? For the Jews, that which is unholy, both ritually and spiritually, would by their presence, pollute the Holy One or Holy objects. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Levite and the scribe walk away because they are on their way to Jerusalem and should they touch this man who may have been dead, then they too would have become ritually impure.

But in their endeavour to be ritually pure the Jews ignored everything else that was demanded of them in Leviticus 19 and the key to this chapter is verse 18, “to love your neighbour as yourself.” This is the verse along with Deuteronomy 6:5 that Jesus taught. We are called to love God with all our heart and mind and strength but also our neighbour as ourselves.

The Gospel of today takes up this aspect of holiness. The call to love our neighbour is an essential component of entering into the home of God the Father. In feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, rendering justice, and respecting the disabled we live the Gospel in five words, “you do it unto me.” The love of our neighbour is not merely some sentimental, emotional or passive love rather it is an action-oriented love. And Jesus took the love for strangers to a new height when he died on the cross.

Finally, we have to ask ourselves, who then is my neighbour? For the Jews in the OT, the neighbour was any other Israelite. When Jesus spoke of the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10, he decided to expand the neighbourhood. For Jesus, the Samaritan was the neighbour and not just the people of my kith, kin and country.

God said, “You shall be holy.” See in this both a command and a promise. God indeed demands holiness but he is also making a promise, “You shall be holy.” The season of Lent makes demands on us but it also promises us the joy of being in God’s holy presence.

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