How Holy are We Supposed to Be?
So, just how holy are we supposed to be?
That’s the obvious question this Sunday’s readings raise to me. We hear the direction from God in Leviticus, “Be holy as I am holy” and then, in the Gospel, Jesus takes all the good and basic commandments he learned in his youth and “supersizes” them: offer the second cheek and tunic and mile; love your enemies as well as your neighbor.
Is he expecting us to take him literally? Or are we simply being asked to use the Pat Benatar approach and “hit it with our best shot” and give it our best try? Most preachers (including yours truly!) would probably opt for that rather than risk being set up as a hypocrite, but what would happen if we took these words at face value?
A.J. Jacobs did just that and wrote about it in his wonderful (and often hysterically funny!) book, The Year of Living Biblically. Being Jewish (“I’m Jewish in the same way that Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.”), Jacobs attempts to follow every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible, from the big and famous ones (Love your neighbor; Be fruitful and multiply) down to the hundreds of often ignored ones (Do not wear clothes of mixed fibers; Do not shave your beard; Stone adulterers) and finds himself on a revelatory spiritual journey that challenges his well-worn agnosticism. It’s a fun read that also makes you think.
Do we sometimes excuse ourselves too quickly from the Levitical commandment to be holy and Jesus’ commandment to be perfect? Perhaps the real goal here is not so much the attainment of either, but the boldness of striving toward it and the lessons God has for us in the efforts?
These readings are given to us at a perfect time: just about two weeks until we begin the wonderfully spiritual season of Lent. Maybe we can think of them as a “seasoning” for the mind and soul. Sprinkle them in and let them stew and steep, inspiring in us some concrete and practical ways to make this our own “Lent of living biblically,” a time to walk boldly toward holiness and grace.