Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
Matthew 25: 34-40
I confess I still tend to associate holiness with piety. But the rest of the passage from Leviticus, and the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel suggest otherwise. God says, ‘be holy’; what follows is not an order for prayer and worship, but instructions in dealing with our neighbours. To live charitably–that is holiness.
So Jesus identifies with the needy: I was hungry, I was naked, I was thirsty, I was in prison.
Jesus changes everything. We expect to find God in holy places; he comes to us in a stable. We encounter God in the Eucharist; we also meet God in the person of the hungry, homeless stranger. Jesus is the image of the invisible God; in him the fullness of the deity was pleased to dwell. And he says he dwells among us still–in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; in his holy church, his body and his bride; and in those who hunger and thirst, those who are sick or in prison.
If I cannot love my brother or sister, whom I can see, then how can I say I love God, whom I cannot see? And how can I profess love for God while failing to love his image in the world, in every person? Holiness is as horizontal as it is vertical. And I am not very good at either loving God or loving neighbor, I realise. I need that new heart, that heart of flesh, that God wants to create in me, the heart fit to receive his love and to pour it our lavishly on others.
Lord in your mercy…
…that which holds all things together knows every word that is said.
Wisdom 1: 7
Before ever a word is on my tongue,
you know it, O Lord, through and through…
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.
Psalm 139: 4, 6
I spend a lot of time thinking about what to say. Maybe I really should spend more time praying. The one who holds all things together (which Colossians 1: 7 echoes) holds all my words already, and knows what I ought to say.
I give him thanks in the land of my captivity,
and I show his power and majesty to a nation of sinners.
Tobit 13: 6
But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
Redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands in a level place;
In the congregations I shall bless the Lord.
Psalm 26: 11-12
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. and behold, there arose a great storm in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves; but he himself was asleep. And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you timid, you men of little faith? Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.
Matthew 8: 23-26
Maybe this is one of those days when the readings just happen to fall on the same day, without an inherent connection (as is usually the case for Sundays). The first reading was from Genesis, about the fate of Lot’s wife, and of Sodom and Gomorrah. Don’t look back! Then the psalmist speaks confidently of stability and security before God–or does he? I am fascinated by the prayer for mercy in the midst of assurance. It is as if to say that all that we do is not what redeems us: God’s grace is what redeems us. Integrity and right worship might contribute to our hope that God will redeem us by his grace; our practice, however faithful, is not sufficient.
And grace–there he is, God’s grace come to dwell among us, asleep in the boat while the storm rages. That’s a confidence beyond that of the psalmist, I think. I love this passage, I confess. It is short, but to the point: here is the one who calms the storm. My storms tend to be of a different kind, but just as dark and sometimes just as violent. Yet here he is, if I can just remember he’s on board, ready to calm the storm, ready to redeem, and to bring me to a level place.