Holiness and Perfection
Leviticus 19:1-10 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. 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. You 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 LORD your God.
Matthew 5:42-48 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In Leviticus God charges the Israelites to be holy, because God is holy. Then, there are descriptors provided of this holiness, much of it being of the relational nature. When caring for the crops of their land, they were always to leave some extra for the poor and the foreigner who was living among them. It was this exact law that Boaz was following when Ruth began working his field. Boaz is remembered as a holy man and Ruth becomes the grandmother of king David. God’s holiness was revealed in the way that Boaz farmed the land and cared for the poor, and the foreigners who had come to Israel.
Next we jump to the New Testament where Jesus is preaching. Jesus’ sermon includes the importance of caring for the poor and those who have less than we do. We are to give to those who beg, and loan to those who ask to borrow. Then, Jesus tells them to go above and beyond what they had come to accept as law and not only love their neighbor (and friend), but to love the enemy as well. Jesus’ expectations for behavior were very high. Loving the enemy meant praying for them, and, in essence, reflecting the love and prevenient grace of God revealed in Christ, to the rest of the lost world.
Jesus didn’t come to just love those who loved him. To become holy like Christ means to be transformed into his image. Jesus loved the tax collectors and many other outcasts of society. He went to their homes, visited with them, loved them and healed them. Finally Jesus ends with, “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is the same construction as what we find in Leviticus where God calls the Israelites to be holy. The call is for all of God’s people to be holy, reflecting the very image of the incarnate God, Jesus. Jesus interprets this holiness of God as perfection; perfection in the sense that this is the goal, or the telos of our lives. To be perfect is to reflect the holiness of God in everything that we do. Holiness is our perfection — holiness is the goal — transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ is the final completion of all things.
This weekend I have gathered with a group of friends to talk about issues of our environment and how these relate to being followers of Jesus Christ. Many of us present have received questions from people as to the importance of this conversation, or rather, concerns that the main thing of being a follower of Jesus Christ is not being discussed — evangelism! The truth is evangelism is seen, or should be seen, in everything that we do. I think that’s what these two passages point out. God was instructing people in farming, and in doing things differently than the rest of the world. They were to use the land well, but make sure they left some of what they had for the poor and needy. This was the way to reflect the holiness of God. Jesus was instructing his disciples in a lifestyle as well. This was one in which you prayed for and loved your enemy, showing generosity to the one who just may persecute you — and all of this leads to becoming the holy individual that God intended.
I read a book this week that talked about some of the issues related to global migration, or why we have so many people trying to move from one place to another. In certain parts of this world there has been a shift in weather patterns and communities of farmers are no longer able to raise their crops. Their land has become very dry and the seasonal rains are now coming on a different cycle. They don’t know when to plant their crops or when to harvest. Because they are so dependent upon the food that they grow this has created a real challenge and so the people are moving from the land to the cities where they hope to find work so they can feed their families. Cities around the world are burgeoning with people who are migrating with the hope of finding work and supporting their families. One such city is Aleppo in Syria. Suddenly the city is filled with more people than the system can support. Food shortages are a common occurrence and the prospects of getting married and being able to support a family no longer appears to be an option for young men. In abject frustration and disappointment they look for a cause which may inspire them — and pay them a little money to simply survive. There in the midst of their deepest need they find one group willing to pay them to join their cause and so, out of desperation — they sell their souls to the cause.
Why should I care about what God says in caring for this planet? Because it has to do with the trickle down effect and the way in which it hurts my neighbor and even my enemy. Because God and Jesus commanded us to care for others in ways that reflect the holiness of God. Because my consumerism just may be contributing to someone else’s hunger. Because I want to tell the world about Jesus, but to do so means that I must enter into the midst of others’ pain and be present when they are in need. I must share what I have with the poor and the needy and care for that which I have been blessed to experience. And all of this is important because God has called us to be holy people. Jesus defined this holy living for us and it was always in relation to the ways in which we loved and cared for others.
The early Nazarenes were very cognizant of the ways in which their lives would affect the lives of others. Birthed in the pre-prohibition era the Nazarenes were strong proponents of the need for prohibition. Alcoholism was ravaging many families leaving women and children destitute. In solidarity with the poor and needy Nazarenes chose to abstain from drinking alcohol. Today we have additional issues where our consumption may lead to the poverty of others. How do I bring others to Christ if I do not show them the overabundant love of Christ? That was Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 25. 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The goal — the telos of God’s holy people — is to be holy as God is holy. The result of this is holy living that reaches out and lives self-sacrifically for the sake of a dying world. This is reflecting and living like Jesus.
Lord, thank you for making me wrestle with things that make me feel uncomfortable. Amen.