Posted in reflections

Holiness? I choose the Jesus kind.

sanThere are two kinds of “holiness.” One looks like the scribes and Pharisees; the other looks like Jesus. I choose the Jesus kind.

If the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time lived today, they’d buy stock in hand sanitizer. Their holiness was a fragile one, a righteousness maintained only through vigilant separation. It was on the defensive. Sinners? Keep ’em at arm’s length. Otherwise, they feared being contaminated.

That which was unholy was always in danger of spoiling that which was holy.

Jesus would have nothing of it. He turned the equation around. The Jesus kind of holiness was no frail religion. Far from being defensive, it went on the offensive. Rather than fearing infection from “sinners,” it brought cleansing to sinners. Jesus insisted: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). On another occasion, he responded: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:17). Lepers – those with the disfiguring skin disease – had to call out to one-and-all : “Unclean!” Yet Jesus reached out with a healing touch.

He who was holy sought out and cleansed those whom others called unholy.

Far from being himself “contaminated,” Jesus “infected” them with God’s cleanness! *

Pope Francis prays for a man with a disfiguring neurological condition.
Pope Francis touches  a man with a non-infectious but disfiguring neurological condition.

For followers of Christ, the implications are huge. God’s call to us is to “Be holy, as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). But what does this mean? Christ’s actions clarify his Father’s intentions: Don’t worry about sin being catching. It’s holiness that is loving, winsome, contagious. Go spread it!

When talking about how holiness should impact our world, Jesus loved metaphors. He spoke of salt, light, and yeast (Matthew 5:13-14, 13:33). Salt preserves, light disperses darkness, and yeast makes a loaf of bread rise. What is striking about all three is that they must come into contact with what they would act upon in order to be effective. Salt must touch the meat, light must shine in darkness, and the baker must fold the yeast into the batch of dough. If the salt stays in the shaker, the light stays covered by a shade, or the yeast remains in the packet, then the meat will rot, the darkness will reign, and the dough won’t rise. What does that tell us about how we as followers of Christ are to interact with the world?

It’s inspiring reading on Facebook about people being salt, light, and yeast. Jacob Wright and his three siblings make up the band The Wright Brothers. From Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jacob lists himself as a “revivalist.” He’s a deep thinker, and often talks theology on his FaceBook page but also shares his faith wherever he goes. He wrote about he and some friends sharing their faith with Steve, who works at the porn shop. Now Steve has accepted their invitation to church. Jacob concluded: “No place is off limits for the kingdom to invade.”

Prudence is essential. A recovering alcoholic is not the person to evangelize in bars (see Galatians 6:1), but someone who isn’t tempted in that way may be the right one to sip only ginger ale, offer a listening ear and a ride home to someone who has had too much to drink. Others who need us may be as close as the neighborhood store. Katie Jones commented on Jacob’s page:

One night He just had us go to Walmart and encourage the employees. We prayed for two people but that was after they asked why in the world we would stop and tell a stranger they’re doing a great job at work. One was an elderly man who ended up getting his kidney healed and the other was a witch, who practically begged us to come back on her next scheduled day off.

That’s the kind of holiness I want, the Jesus kind, the kind that – with love as its only weapon – goes on the offensive. It’s not frail and defensive. Rather, it’s infectious. That kind of holiness will change the world.


* I am indebted to Old Testament scholar Dwight Swanson for this insight into the difference between holiness in the Old Testament vs. in the Gospels.


Image credits:

Sanitizer – UPMC My Health Matters

Pope with disfigured man – Imgur