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Posted by on Feb 19, 2023

Be Holy

Be Holy

Be Holy.

Two simple words, but what a challenge to obey them! The Lord instructed Moses to speak to the community of Israelites and tell them, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

What does it mean to be holy? The book of Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew scriptures. In this book, the many rules and regulations for how the people are to live are laid out. In this particular chapter (19:1-2, 17-18), there is a listing of things (in verses 3 -16) that many of us would recognize as part of the Ten Commandments. We don’t hear that whole list in the selection for our reading today, however, only the command to love our fellow humans as we love ourselves. Hatred, anger, revenge, grudges – all are prohibited because they are not the way of love.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount also refers to the law as set forth in the books of Exodus and Leviticus when presenting the instructions for his followers. (Mt 5:38-48) He mentions the injunction that allows taking “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” from those who harm others. We hear that and are appalled at the thought of such punishment. Nevertheless, this statement from the ancient Law was actually a huge step forward in its time. It limited revenge for injuries inflicted on others to no more than what the one who was guilty had done to another. No more killing an entire village because one member had injured someone from another village or insulted someone more powerful!

Jesus takes it a step further. “Offer no resistance to the one who is evil,” and gives concrete examples from life as experienced in his community and by those to whom he spoke. For example, Roman soldiers were allowed to require people to help transport things for a mile, whether it was convenient for them or not. Jesus says, give them two miles rather than one mile. Some have suggested that in this, he was actually giving people a way to protest the law that required one mile. It put the soldiers into a difficult position, because they were left to explain why the person had carried the burden for two miles! Had they broken the rule themselves and forced the extra service? Whether that was it or not, the idea of giving extra service to the soldiers of a hated conquering nation was quite unheard of.

Then there’s that little bit about loving enemies… What a crazy idea. But Jesus insists. Anyone can love people who are friendly and treat them well. It’s much harder to behave lovingly to those who treat us badly. Still, Jesus points out, God doesn’t treat those who do evil badly. God treats all with the same gifts of sunshine and rain – the things they need to live.

If we love only those who love us, we are like everyone else. But to go that extra step (or mile) and be good and kind and loving to those who hurt us – well that is beyond the norm. That enters into the realm of the divine, the realm to which we are called. The realm of the Holy One.

St. Paul reminds the people of Corinth and the people of the world today that we are the new temple of God, because the Spirit of God lives within us and within our community. (1Cor 3:16-23) As part of that temple, we ourselves are holy too. But how to be holy? It’s not through the ordinary wisdom for getting ahead in life. In the eyes of God, that is foolishness. We are called to embrace God’s foolishness – that of caring for others, loving enemies, helping those in need. Every member of the community has a responsibility to every other member. Each person belongs to us as family, we belong to Christ as family, and Christ to God. Here we find ourselves again, called to be holy, because God is holy and we belong to God.

So as we pass our days this week and enter into the holy season of Lent on Wednesday, let’s remember to look for the ways in which we get to practice the holiness of God by being loving and forgiving, patient and kind to all those we meet each day.

Readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A