“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Leviticus 19:1-2
Holiness is not something that humans come by themselves; it’s something we as spiritual beings can make room for, but we can’t work up on our own. We are holy because the Lord our God is holy–it is God’s holiness that covers us, that infuses us, and transforms us into holy people.
This week’s lectionary passage goes on (verses 9-18 of the same chapter–see below) to give some specific guidelines about what holy living looks like; each declaration is ended with the same refrain, “I am the Lord” (vs. 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18). It’s a sort of short hand to remind the people at the end of every law delineated that it isn’t the peoples’ own effort that will bring such generous, respectful, strange and particular living about, but God’s grace and holiness flowing through their lives that will enable such curious actions and lifestyle.
Not just the statutes laid out in Leviticus 19, but all the 600-some laws throughout the Old Testament were established by God not to hem his people in, or to cause them to trip up, but to help the people recognize that they were different. God had chosen them, put his mark on them, and to the world, these people, the Israelites, were supposed to be so different from all the other people that others would ask why on earth they were so strange. They were strange–or were supposed to be–because they belonged to God; the Lord our God made them holy by his own holiness.
As we butt up against Lent, preparing to go into the desert with the Israelites and with Jesus, we consider the holiness that God graciously clothes us in through his Son, Jesus–not because of anything we do, or anything we promise that we’ll become, but just because each and every one of us is worth loving. It’s a world full of curious, wonderful, beloved people–and you’re one!
9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lordyour God.
11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.
13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.