Are You Holy?
What does it mean to be holy?
Most responses to this question begin something like this: “To be holy is to be set apart.” I don’t know about you, but “set apart” sounds a little too tidy—much too clean for the God who came down from heaven. For instance, as part of most Eucharistic liturgies, worshippers say, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might.” So, obviously, God is holy. But then worshippers say, “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord,” which suggests that one implicates the other. To be holy is to be blessed; to be blessed is to be holy.
So, what then does it mean to be blessed? For this one there’s an easy scriptural reference, which is most clear in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 5): “Blessed are the poor,… Blessed are those who mourn,… Blessed are the meek,… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst,… Blessed are the merciful,… Blessed are the pure in heart,… Blessed are the peacemakers,… Blessed are those who are persecuted….”
The beatitudes, this series of blessings, come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but the disturbing thing about the blessedness that Jesus describes is that in the Greek the blessings are in the Dative Case, which means that they are in the present tense. So, if you’re poor, hungry, sad, and persecuted then although you will inherit the earth, although you will be comforted, although you will be called children of God, you are blessed NOW. It should come as no surprise that Jesus began with thousands of disciples, which got whittled down to 70, then 12, ending up with just one of them at the foot of the cross.
If being holy means ending up poor, hungry and sad, then who wants to be holy?
The word for holiness in the Greek is hagios; in Latin it’s sacer. Each translate a little too smoothly as holy or sacred, but the meaning that underscores these terms implies a similitude—an active likeness to something that is already familiar. In other words, to be holy—to be sacred and set apart, is to participate in the truth of one’s being. It is to purposefully inhabit what one is already inhabited by. In short, it’s to become who we are at the core of our being as children and creatures of God.
To be holy is to be set apart, but not set apart as better than or other than the rest; rather, it’s about attention. To be holy is to attend to the truth of who we are in Christ, not so that we can be separate from those who are not like Christ but so that we might better serve and bear witness to Christ for the good of others, whether they are followers of Jesus or not.
To be holy is about poverty, hunger, and sadness, but as it relates to God and the world. It’s about finding wealth in the freedom and abundance of God, such that we see monetary wealth for what it is—temporary. It’s about hungering for God and learning how to fast from the provisions of the world. It’s about finding joy in the things of God and remembering that the pain of this world, though it is not to be dismissed, ignored or treated lightly, must be seen in its proper light, which is the death and resurrection of Jesus, by whose suffering our own suffering becomes meaningful and redemptive, perhaps even holy.
In this light, to be holy is to actively and deliberately inhabit the Christ who inhabits us as his own, to attend to the Christ who, for reasons beyond our wildest imaginations, attends to us. To inhabit the way of holiness, then, means attending more and more to the Christ in ourselves and each other, and doing so in ways that gently draw the love of God from everyone we meet.
This is no easy task, because some people, make it difficult to love them, which is why loving others can be exhausting. If you haven’t been exhausted by someone you love then you haven’t really loved. It’s like marriage: If you haven’t had a good fight you haven’t had a good marriage.
To be holy, then, does not mean being separated from what is not or those who are not holy—for none are holy on their own; rather, it is to be brought closer to everyone and everything in Christ, who has come in the Name of the Lord, so that all of creation might be blessed together, becoming holy together, for everything and everyone to know the joy and gentleness of the God who loves us and fills us with everything we could ever need or want.