“You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
This is the start of these instructions from God — given to Moses to give to all the people. What do you think of when you think of holiness? Is it an unobtainable standard based on religious rituals and right beliefs? Is it known by some kind of mark, like a scarlet letter to make sure we all know who is in and who is out? Is it about the purity of your heart and known only to you and God?
Jesus helps us see all of this differently. The culture in Jesus’ day was very stratified so that it was clear to all if you were “in,” or if you were “out.” Part of the great scandal of Jesus’ life and ministry was his insistence to surround himself with people that everyone — even them — knew were supposed to be “out,” and he treated them like they were “in.”
Jesus was teaching us that true holiness is in how you serve God by taking care of people, especially people in need, and this is exactly what Leviticus is telling us too. Jesus wasn’t doing something new, and the revolutionary nature of his ministry wasn’t in taking religion in a completely different direction, he was just taking it back to what it was always intended to be.
This points us to the silliest part of the arguments, often made, that Jesus was “just a great teacher” and not God in the flesh, or the Messiah. If you take the moral teachings of Jesus and separate them from his claims to be the Savior of the world, Jesus isn’t saying much of anything that hasn’t already been said. Jesus becomes completely redundant.
The truth couldn’t be further from this line of thinking. You can just choose the parts of Jesus you like. An honest look at this demand to be holy, and the realization that this demand is about taking care of each other reveals how badly we’ve failed and continue to fail. It is especially our attempts at holiness that make us unholy, so this demand that comes from God through Moses — our holiness — is only met by taking care of each other, all our efforts end up more like gasoline on a fire or closing the barn after the horse has bolted. So, Jesus takes care of us instead. Where our love falls short, his love perfects. Can we make room for that in others with whom we dislike or who aggravate us?
Loving God, your love makes me holy. Your demand is perfection in love because that is the only thing that will do, but I can’t give it. You fulfill what you demand, and you send me out into the world completely changed and empowered to love my neighbor anew. I am overwhelmed by your holiness. Amen.