Be perfect?

20 February 2011
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 7A (RCL)

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

The Book of Leviticus is one of the most puzzling in the Bible. All these rules about what kind of animals can be sacrificed, and how, and for what circumstances. If you house has leprosy, you have to offer a particular form of sacrifice (we wonder what it means for a house to have leprosy — mildew?). But, when Jewish children are learning to read Hebrew, the first book they read is Leviticus. For them, it is about God’s love affair with the world. Really? Ruminant animals with cloven hooves are good to eat, but ruminants without cloven feet or cloven footed animals not ruminant (like pigs) are not good to eat. What’s going on?

For Leviticus, holiness means something like complete, whole, a good example of its class, integral. Cloven footed and ruminant is a way of classifying animals. Those that are both are good examples of the class “domestic animal”. Otherwise not. Cloven footed but not ruminant are wild animals. And holiness is incumbent on the people, because God is holy — whole, integral, complete.

Don’t glean your field to the edge, because I the Lord am holy. If you glean the field to the edge, the poor, who are at the edge, will fall over, and the community will no longer be whole and complete. All of these rules help us represent God’s wholeness and holiness.

Jesus is saying essentially the same thing in the sermon on the mount. Love your neighbor and your enemy, because God makes his rain fall on the just and the unjust. Be complete because I am complete.

For Leviticus, the Temple, and specifically, the Holy of holies, was the center of the universe, around which all wholeness was organized. Paul tells us we are the Temple, the inner sanctum of the Holy Spirit, the center of the universe around which holiness is organized. What we offer is creation, in its imperfect forms, and ask God to perfect it and return it to us. Our ethics is all about bringing the world to completion and perfection, divinization as the eastern tradition has it.

What does a sanctified world look like? In places like Egypt or Bahrain? In places where we live and work? What do we offer to bring that about?

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