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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

Those who want to be like God are expected to act like God.


Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18     
I Corinthians 3:16-23     
Matthew 5:38-48

Just what do our sacred authors mean when they refer to someone as being “holy?” They certainly aren’t employing a Merriam-Webster definition of the term. In their minds it normally has nothing to do with being “revered or worthy of devotion.” A holy person or object is simply “other:” there isn’t anyone or anything quite like it. That, for instance, is the main reason Jews were forbidden to make images of Yahweh. Any picture, bas-relief, or statue of such a completely holy individual would be limiting his/her otherness, something Yahweh’s followers were expected to respect.
That’s why the Leviticus author must have deeply disturbed his readers when he not only reminds them that Yahweh’s holy, but, through Moses, also tells them to imitate that holiness. They’re to accomplish this not by dressing different from everyone else, but by living lives that are other from people around them, lives based on a unique value system. Against common wisdom and practice, they’re to “take no revenge, cherish no grudges,” and, unbelievably, “love their neighbors as themselves.”
Matthew’s Jesus simply points out a few implications of such holiness in today’s gospel pericope. His followers are not only expected to “turn the other cheek” when someone strikes them, they’re even required to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” He consistently wants them to show “hesed” to everyone.
Biblical hesed refers to what an individual does for someone which goes beyond what he or she has a right to expect. It’s a way of exercising freedom in situations in which one’s freedom has been taken away. For instance, though someone might have a right to “go to law with you over your tunic,” handing over your cloak to that person is a totally free act. In the same way, going two miles instead of one mile for someone forcing you to do so, is also a free action. There’s “no charge” for that second mile.
As a good Jew, Matthew’s Jesus is convinced that one way we demonstrate our holiness is by freely doing things which we have no responsibility or obligation to do. A significant part of our otherness is that we’re free even in situations in which others have surrendered their freedom. Just as our “perfect” God freely deals with people, so do we. Those who want to be like God are expected to act like God.
It’s significant to recall that even though main-stream Jews had huge difficulties with the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE, Christian Jews didn’t seem to take its demise on the same level. We have to thank Paul for their reaction.
Though the Apostle was martyred about 10 years before the Roman army leveled Jerusalem, the theology he develops in today’s I Corinthians passage certainly provided them with a unique perspective from which to view that national and religious disaster. No longer was the Jerusalem temple the only place where Jesus’ Jewish disciples could encounter God. “Do you not know,” Paul asks his Corinthian readers, “that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Then he reminds them of the obvious: “The temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
If acting like everyone else is the norm of wisdom, it’s no wonder, Paul argues, that people judge other Christs to be fools.
We know from movies like Jeremiah Johnson that many Native American tribes gave their mentally ill members a free pass, interpreting their unconventional actions as signs they were close to their gods, who they logically reasoned would act differently from themselves.
I wonder how many of our friends and relatives are just as generous in judging our holy actions?