Mt. 5: 38 – 48 ( http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022320.cfm )
Be Holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.
In the rural Ireland of the 1950s and ‘60s where I grew up, to tell someone “you are holy”, would be vigorously rejected; rather, the person would acknowledge, quite readily, being a sinner. Monthly confession and the parish mission left us in no doubt about the state that we were in. I cannot recall having ever heard a preacher tell a congregation that they were holy!
I think that the reason that we shied away from being called holy is that we confused it with being seen as pious. Being pious could mean focussing on personal sanctification and doing more and more religious practices. Many were a little sceptical of pious people and usually kept their distance from them.
Being holy is a different matter altogether. The focus is very much on God.
“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy”, says Moses, in today’s First Reading. We are holy because God lives in us. “You are God’s temple”, Paul tells the Corinthians, in the Second Reading. Or, as he tells us in Romans 5:5: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”.
This great gift is given to us not to spend our time admiring our halo but is a call to action.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus, after acknowledging that the “Spirit of the Lord is upon him”, goes on to say, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”
For us, as for Jesus, holiness is always about living and promoting the values of the Kingdom of God. Jesus embodies the holiness of God and is the great guide for us. Holiness means being able to forgive, being able to love one’s enemies, and being able to turn the other cheek as Jesus does in his ministry.
So, as we listen to the readings today, let us give thanks that God’s holiness shines in us and let us go with renewed energy to live the gospel.