The idea of ‘holiness’ appears in all of this week’s readings in different forms. In Leviticus the people are commanded to be holy as God is holy, and this holiness is revealed in their treatment of one another and their seeking for justice.
The psalmist prays for a life that is directed by God’s ways and God’s commands, and for the strength to pursue this life faithfully. Paul challenges the church to be a holy temple for God’s Spirit by building their lives and community on the foundation of Christ.
And, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches what ‘perfection’ or holiness is to be like – compassionate and non-violent, refusing to retaliate when harmed, and seeking the best even for those who consider us to be their enemies.
What is clear here is that holiness is not about not doing things. It is about doing things that make a difference. It is not about avoiding so-called sinful behaviour, but about doing justice, compassion, fairness, non-violence and generosity. It is about caring for those who are vulnerable and poor, and treating all people with the same respect and dignity. Note: Interestingly, Luke’s parallel for Matthew’s “Be perfect…” is “Be compassionate…” (Luke 6:36 NLT).
Holiness, in this week’s readings, is all about social justice, non-violence and community (and, by extension, if I may be permitted to interpolate into Paul’s letter a little, hospitality).
What a wonderful opportunity to deconstruct and reconstruct what we believe about this often unpopular word in our worship and preaching this week!