Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ 1 Peter 1:15-16
The word “holy” is a strange one. It hardly ever comes into everyday language apart from special “churchified” types of usage. When someone became a priest, for example, he was referred to as “taking holy orders,” or a church building might be referred to as a “holy place” or the Bible might be called “the Holy Bible.”
So does that mean that when a person, place or book is set aside for special God-centered use, it can be called “holy”?
In which case, when Peter instructs followers of Jesus to be holy yourselves in all your conduct he is summoning them to God-centered behaviour patterns? Watch the way you talk, the way you react in conversations, the way you think, the things you do…
So far, ok. But doesn’t that turn me into some kind of joyless Pharisee? It’d be like sharing a banquet with a newly-slimmed down diet expert, and every time I reached for the truffles, the caviar or even the sugar bowl, they’d be muttering “That stuff’s poison!” or “Do you know how they make it?” “Have you any idea what you’re doing to your body?” “Do you know how many calories in one spoonful?”
So. A pretty miserable meal ensues, right?
Is that to be my approach to life?
But that’s not to say that the diet-expert is not right, in a technical sense. The problem is that too many rules spoils the whole adventure of eating. Or living, for that matter.
Because there’s another common usage of the word “holy.” It’s in the phrase “holier than thou.” It denotes someone who is looking down on you, from a position of assumed superiority, who feels and acts somehow better than you, and you feel demeaned as a result.
That ‘s why I’m so glad for the preceding phrase in the verse that puts it all into place: as he who called you is holy.
That is to say, my measure, or standard of what “holy” means is defined by the one who called me. Jesus.
Jesus is the standard definition.
And now, all of a sudden, I feel animated and thrilled. Now I understand completely. Jesus never turned anyone away, never looked down on anyone. He was tough –incredibly tough- on hypocrites and religious pretenders…
But he stood among the broken, the lost and the vulnerable and said , “Come unto me and rest.” He lifted the face of a woman exposed and humiliated and said” I do not condemn you.”
This is what being holy looks like. This is what being holy does.
And that’s enough for me.
The Jesus version of “holy” is easy to understand. It means being unfailingly kind, generous, open-hearted, uncritical, forgiving.
And “unholy” people flocked to him. The kids tried to jump in his lap, people who felt stupid and unlovely literally adored him so much that it offended religious people.
And Peter said: Be like that.
It’s enough of a challenge, isn’t it?