When we talk about holiness we step into a centuries-long conversation about what it really means and how we are to discern what is holy and what is not. The problem is, our primary comparison of holiness is in God and really, who wants to compare themselves with the Creator?
To be honest, I don’t think a lot about my own “holiness factor” due to what is probably a gross misconception of what holiness really means. At a base level, I associate holiness with perfection and since I am far from it, why spend a lot of time thinking about it?
The Hebrew word for “holy” in the Old Testament is Qadash (pronounced ‘kaw-dash’) which literally means “to be set apart for a special purpose”. The literal meaning of this word juxtaposed against the common usage is quite startling if you ask me. To call someone “holier than thou” in our culture is meant as an insult, but with the literal meaning could be used as a word of encouragement.
To be holy is to be unique, different, special. When I think about something that is set apart, I think of the really valuable or useful things in life. For instance, I will treat my guitar much different than a candy bar wrapper. One has great significance and will be treated well while the other is simple refuse.
One of the readings this week is from Matthew 5 as Jesus describes the way one of his followers should interact with the world around them – especially under duress. I believe these are some of the most revolutionary things Jesus ever said. Every one of them is counter-cultural and even scandalous to an extent.
Why would someone turn the other cheek when someone strikes? What would compel someone to love a person who hates? Why would you give more money to someone who sues you?
I think the answer is in the final part of the passage – “If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different than anyone else? Even the pagans do that.”
It seems like Jesus is quite unimpressed with our definition of holiness. It seems like Jesus yawns and says “so what?” to our rule following and attempts at perfection.
But, what really gets his attention are the folks who follow him into suffering, shame, and pain. For Jesus, being holy is being like him. He wasn’t really a rule follower. While he seemed to respect the laws of the land, he broke many of the norms and conventions of the culture-at-large around him.
He set himself apart and asked his followers to do the same.
So, holiness seems to have little to do with getting everything right. It seems to have everything to do with showing the world who Jesus is by living our lives out the way he did.
And if we do, people will know what holiness really is.
What do you think? What have been your conceptions/misconceptions about holiness?