Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5
While gathered together for the Eucharist, one might look around and wonder who is the holiest person here. There are many possible candidates; the elderly gentleman, who has endured the changes in the liturgy quite gracefully, might be one. The young pregnant couple who looks like they wish brevity was one of the liturgical changes that the church may have missed.
Holiness is a bit like steam and electricity, we can not see them, but we know their sources and their effects. “You are the fountain of all holiness,” we pray right after the Holy, Holy, Holy prayer. So God is the source of holiness, but what are its effects. It could well be the elderly man and the pregnant couple, or it might just be appearances as I search for a clearer definition.
In today’s First Reading, we hear a powerful and comforting boast by God about the people of Israel. God reminds them of what they have seen happen in their own collective history. They were safely brought out of Egypt. This great event will remain for them the identifying experience of who they are in their own eyes of faith and the eyes of God.
They are claimed as dear to God more than any other people, though all the earth’s people belong to God. In a sense, they are ordained by this saving gesture of God to be “a holy nation.” They are to live this dignity out of great gratitude which will be manifested by remembering the Exodus as an act of God’s love for them and keeping the observances flowing from the Covenant. They are not to perform the actions of God’s covenantal law so as to gain, or win holiness. They are to hear what God is saying about them, take these words to heart, and live outwardly what they are, “a kingdom of priests….” They are to be who they are by the Word of God.
As God had pity on the Jews enslaved in Egypt, the people of Jesus’ time were imprisoned by sicknesses of all kinds. In today’s Gospel, Matthew pictures Jesus being moved deeply by their condition. He has cured many in the previous verses, because of Who He was, the love of God made Flesh. How can He tell them who they are, but by caring for them according to their needs.
Staying faithful to His embracing of His Humanity, He chooses others who can extend His love so as to tell those who are like sheep without a shepherd who they are in God’s eyes.
Jesus calls His “sent-ones” by name and gives them instructions on just how to be free so as to proclaim that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The healing of the sick, the gathering of the abandoned, the being sought-for, are all ways for Jesus to continue identifying God’s people as loved and holy. These “sent-one's” Apostles and those to whom they are sent did not earn or manipulate their being so loved. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” The Apostles received their name, their mission, and their holiness. The sick, the needy, do the same. Perhaps holiness has much to do with receiving and less to do with achieving.
I was just speaking with my thirteen year-old nephew on the phone. I asked him how he knew who he was and how did he know his name was really Patrick. When pushed a bit, he said that he didn’t really know who he was, but he just had always been Patrick as long as he could remember. Besides, “My mom told me and I usually believe her.” A wise man is he.
Holiness is something like believing what our mothers have always called us. At times though, when our mothers would call our names, we may have pretended we didn’t hear her, or hid so we did not have to respond. Holiness has some invitations to respond, that is to act according to our name.
The Apostles hear their names and at the same time get their mission to live His mission by telling God’s people their names.
Perhaps you have waited in a doctor’s office or an airport waiting room, hoping to hear your name called. How sweet it is to hear our own name called when we were flying stand-by. “We made it, we’re not going to be left behind.”
Holiness is expressed by God through Jesus. As the Israelites stood at the foot of Sinai and heard the blessing-words of God, so we stand at the foot of the altar and hear the same One God say the same things over us that the king of heaven is both at hand and offered into our hand. We are holy to the extent that we believe His new covenant offered to us and for us. We live that holiness by extending that same love by curing this world of its sense of abandonment. There are illnesses of all kinds and each of us is to hear her or his name once more and live who our Mothering God has told us we are.
So who is holy around us today? I am and you are and the elderly
man and the pregnant couple who believe what they hear about being “A kingdom
of priests.” We don’t see holiness, just the effects.
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