19th Sunday After Pentecost
2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9 | Luke 6:31-36
What is holiness? What does it mean to be holy?
The word “holy” in Hebrew is kadosh, and in Greek, hagios. It essentially means to be “set-apart,” separate, different, and other. It also means to be “awesome.” To be holy is to be set-apart from sin, what is profane, secular or worldly, to be different, to be awesome.
God, of course, is the Source of all holiness, for He is All-Holy. It means that He is set-apart from all that is not God. He is totally other, different. He is Love. He is all-good, and there is not sin or evil in Him. He is perfect in all His attributes. He is awesome. When we say, “God, You are holy,” we are saying, “God, You are awesome.”
As God’s children, created in His image and likeness, we are also called to be holy, to be like Him, dedicated to Him, set-apart from all sin and evil, and all that is not of God.
In the Old Testament, the Lord God said the following to the People of Israel:
“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your god, am holy” (Lev. 19:2).
“You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord and holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine” (Lev. 20:26).
In the New Testament, the apostle Peter writes the following:
“And He Who called you is holy; be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
So, for Israel, the People of God according to the Old Covenant, what did it mean to be holy, to be set-apart?
First, to be holy was to be set-apart from all sin, to be set apart from the world of sin and evil, to be set-part from all idolatry, sexual immorality, adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, cursing, swearing. It meant to be different from other people in the world.
Second, to be holy was to be dedicated to God, to strive to know Him, to love him, to serve Him, to live by His words, to follow His commandments and His law.
Third, to be holy was to love one’s neighbour, understood to be one’s fellow Israelite. The Lord said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). However, it also meant that one was obligated to love the stranger, the foreigner, the non-Jew, who either passes through or lives in the midst of Israel. “When a stranger sojourns with you in the land, you shall do him no wrong… you shall love him as yourself” (Lev. 19:33-34). In the book of Tobit, we find the following Silver Rule: “Do to no one what you yourself hate” (Tobit 4:15).
Fourth, to be holy was remain ritually pure at all times, to follow the laws with respect cleanness. To remain ritually pure, Jews avoided all unclean foods and drinks, as directed by the law. They avoided contact with bodily emissions and contact with anything dead. If one became unclean, there was a process specified by the laws, as how to become ritual clean once again.
So, what happened practically, from day to day?
Jews did not eat with Gentiles, neither in their homes or at banquets, so as not to be defiled by any food or drink that might be unclean. Gentiles were exempt from dietary laws.
Jews did not enter the homes or buildings of Gentiles in order to avoid any possible association with idolatry, or participation in idolatrous practices or rituals.
There was no Mosaic law that forbade social interaction and communication with Gentiles. However, in Jesus’ time, there were devout Jews who believed that holiness required complete separation from non-Jews, to be physically set-apart from them, because the Gentiles were unclean.
When the apostle Peter came to the house of the centurion Cornelius, a Gentile, as a Jew, he did enter into his house; and he said those who were inside: “You yourself know how unlawful it is [for Jews] to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is helping us re-focus on what it truly means to be holy. He is breaking the barrier between Jews and Gentiles; and the New Covenant that He has come to establish, will be a covenant between God and all the nations of the earth.
So, what is holiness, in light of the words and teaching of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the Gospel today?
First, to be holy is to be set-apart from sin, to live in the world, but not to be part of the world. It means to be set-apart from all forms of idolatry, sexual immorality and promiscuity, to be set-apart from all lying, deception, cheating, stealing, cursing and swearing.
Second, to be holy is to be dedicated to God, to strive to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him; to live by His words; to live according to the Gospel; to follow God’s commandments.
Third, to be holy is to love our neighbour, which means every human person. gives us the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk. 6:31).
Fourth, to be holy is to stive to be like God. God is loving, merciful and kind to everyone. He generously bestows His gifts upon the righteous and upon the sinners; upon those who are grateful, and “upon those who are ungrateful and selfish” (Lk. 6:35). So, as His children, we are called to imitate Him, to do the same.
To be like God, is to be loving, kind and generous with all people – the righteous and the sinners.
To be like God is to love those who love us and those who hate us; to do good, even to our enemies.
To be like God is to help those in need, without any expectations for receiving anything in return. It means that there are no expectations on our part to be thanked, acknowledged, appreciated or recognized.
To be like God is to be willing to lend things to others, without expecting borrowed things to be returned.
To be like God is to be kind, merciful and generous to the grateful, and also to the ungrateful and selfish. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36).