Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18 (NRSVCE)
“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
It’s easy to read this verse and be put off by a sense of legalism. Even more so when you realize this verse is in Leviticus, which is filled with rules and restrictions on what you ought and ought not to do. It is a rule, certainly, in that it tells us that we are to conform to a certain standard. But it is also a truth. It describes the nature of our relationship as the created to our Creator. A couple days ago, when we were reflecting on the idea of obedience in the context of Moses’ sermon in Deuteronomy, I mentioned the words of St. Paul, where he says that God is the origin and destination of all things. God is our source and our destination. Our source is holy, in the highest possible sense. And our destination is that same holiness. We must be holy, yes. But we also shall be holy, because we come from what is holy and we will return to what is holy.
But it’s not as easy as that. We cannot read that and simply throw our hands up and say “Well, guess I’ll be holy eventually!” Remember that Moses is speaking to the Israelites here—to the people of God. The people of God who have been set apart from the world (hence the word “holy”, which means “set apart”). He goes on in this passage to list a few of the things one must do in order to remain set apart—in order to be holy. You shall not steal, as the world does. You shall not persecute those who cannot defend themselves (i.e., “put a stumbling block before the blind”). You must be just, and do not favor the rich in judgment over the poor (a problem even in our own day). You shall not hate your kin, and correct them when they do wrong, out of love for them. And positively, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. These are things we must do, as the people of God. These are things which will keep us oriented toward our proper destination. They are literal signposts, guiding our path back to our source—back to holiness.
We must be holy, for if we are not we can never enjoy our destination (Revelation 21:27). And we shall be holy, if we participate in the graces God bestows on us. If we follow the signposts, if we accept the grace freely offered to us, if we hold fast to the Way (which is Jesus, by the way), we will return to our source. For Jesus says "Follow me", and if we do, we shall be holy.