This week we are discussing chapter 4 – Holiness – of Archbishop Rowan Williams’ book: Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life. The word “holy” in Hebrew – qodesh – means to be sacred or set apart. The Sabbath is holy because it is set apart from other days. The Aaronite priesthood is holy because it is set apart from other Israelites. Israel is holy because it is set apart from the other nations. Being set apart means having special rules to prevent the holy thing from becoming unclean. Down through the ages, and even today in Christianity, holiness (like the Holiness movement) often means an outward form of cleanliness centered upon behavioral obedience to certain moral rules such as no alcohol and modesty in dress and entertainment.
The holiness that Dr. Williams speaks of is different than these more common interpretations. (Dr. Williams says that this more traditional understanding of holiness has its benefits but that is beyond the scope of his mediation on the issue.) For Jesus (and for us), holiness is not based on separation but intimate involvement. One of the reasons the Pharisees opposed Jesus was that he cavorted with unclean people. Jesus eats and drinks with prostitutes and tax collectors, and even calls them to be his disciples. Matt 9:10-13. Ultimately, for Jesus (and for us) being made holy is going to the cross. John 17:17-19. As Dr. Williams says, for Jesus “being holy is being absolutely involved, not being absolutely separated.” (p.49)
For a Christian disciple, being holy is not about being saintly, but being a saint. (p.50) The question is not whether the disciple is very strict, devout, and intense, but the effect that the disciple has on those around him. Does the disciple make them feel guilty, frustrated, and inadequate, or does the disciple make them feel joyful, hopeful, and uplifted? Jesus doesn’t condemn following a set of moral rules, but the question is whether those rules oppress or uplift, “for humanity was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for humanity.” Mark 2:27. As holy disciples of Jesus, we are not to condemn the world, but proclaim the world’s salvation through Jesus Christ. John 3:17.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Col. 3:12-15.