Sunday, August 30, 2015
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Friday, August 28, 2015
23 Aug 2015
Message by Joel
Selections from Leviticus 19
In that most eminently quotable of movies, The Princess Bride, there is a scene near the story’s beginning that (believe it or not) offers us a starting place for considering these verses from Leviticus. In the film, a rather bombastic character named Vizzini the Sicilian has the bothersome habit of repeatedly – and usually inappropriately – using a particular word. Whenever he is confronted by an opinion with which he disagrees, or by a possibility he thinks too improbable to entertain, or by the very suggestion that another person might be his intellectual equal, he declares – emphatically and always annoyingly – “inconceivable!” In the scene in question, after yet another of Vizzini’s outbursts, one of his traveling companions, a laconic mercenary named Inigo Montoya, looks at him and says, in a low voice tinged ever so slightly with sarcasm, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Well, “that word,” in today’s text – and for that matter in all of Leviticus (it appears there more than in any other book of the bible) – is “holy.” It is a word we think we understand, and are pretty sure we don’t much care for. Perhaps because we are burdened by our common inheritance from those wacky Puritans, or because of our exposure to a certain brand of fundamentalism, or perhaps just because we have all been acculturated to a world that is anything but holy, many of us would just as soon stay as far from holiness as we possibly can.
It’s not that holiness frightens us so much as it depresses and annoys us. Holy people have withdrawn from the world into little cocoons of religiousness and abandoned the quest for the good life. They seem, or so we think, to have no joy, and what’s worse, they are killjoys. They hate their bodies and think sex is dirty and avoid it except maybe as an occasional evil necessary for the propagation of presumably holy children. They don’t care for good food and drink – neither wine nor beer nor bourbon ever passes their lips – and seem to live on bread and water if they eat at all. And don’t even get me started on the religiosity – all the inane “God bless yous,” the pious dismissals of the realities of pain and suffering, and the endless string of Bible verses they seem to have prepared for every occasion. Who in his or her right mind would want to be like that? Who, given the choice, wants to be holy? Or so we imagine…
But, as Inigo Montoya might remind us, “that word” does not mean what we think it means. Holiness, properly understood, has only the most tangential of connections to the attitudes and behaviors I just named. Holiness is gospel – not just good news, but really good news – and it is indispensable both to our flourishing and to the healing of God’s good Creation.