Monday Quote - Richard Beck - In the actions of the Pharisees we see how the experience of purity... had come to replace morality (the mercy impulse.) This is the pietistic temptation, seeking a personal experience of 'cleansing' at the expense of social and political engagement. The spiritual experience of being pure replaces passionate moral effort.
Monday Thought -
The Pharisee in today's story is deeply offended, even disgusted by what he sees. His disgust is multi-layered. He is disgusted that a woman has entered the dinner party uninvited and then stayed. Women and men were not to eat together. The women were to serve and then leave. He is disgusted because the woman has a reputation. She is a woman of poor morals. This makes matters worse. Poor moral character was considered contagious. Much the way some are understandably concerned about physical contact at the passing of the peace during worship in cold and flu season, so was the Pharisee concerned about catching the woman's sin. And finally, the woman does touch Jesus in a most intimate way. Her hair touches his feet, which again, risks the contagion of her poor morals and which is far too intimate a form of contact for a social dinner event especially between a man and woman who were not married.
Although issues of power and social influence are certainly a part of the his concern, these are not the only issues. The Pharisee is concerned about purity. Moral Purity. Let's not forget that in Exodus God, after freeing the Hebrews from slavery would say, 'you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.' The Pharisee is also concerned with holiness. In Leviticus we see Israel working out what it meant for them to be a 'priestly kingdom and a holy nation.' Clear boundaries were set and distinctions made between pure and impure. That is probably why Leviticus isn't so widely read among Christians today. It tends toward long lists of things that are unclean. What foods are clean and unclean, what activities are clean and unclean, what objects and even people are clean and unclean. At its root, this code of distinguishing between clean and unclean is one way that Israel worked through trying to live holy lives that would be pleasing to God.
Although we like to think ourselves different because we are Christian's living under grace and not the law, or because we are educated modern people, I think that this concern with purity still exists. Who among us has not heard from our mother's, 'birds of a feather, flock together,' or, 'lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.' these are a mothers way of saying that poor morals and bad decision making is contagious. We can catch it. And to a certain extent, there is some validity. Why is bullying such a large and increasingly damaging issue in schools? No, the language of clean and unclean, pure and impure is not used. But there is definitely a social function of deciding who is in and who is out. And those of us who were out in junior high and high school know well that you can spot this in the lunch room. There are certain people you will not sit with if you want to be in. And those who are out, are not welcome at the in table. Not so long ago African-American's in certain parts of the nation were not allowed to use the same public drinking fountains, or sit in the same locations in restaurants as whites. And if we are paying close attention, we will hear concern about cleanliness and purity in social and political debates that are currently raging.
The point for today is this. At its deepest root, concern with purity had its virtues. Israel wanted to live in a way that pleased God, and they knew that they could be influenced and tempted away from living a life that is holy and pleasing to God. It is good for us to take seriously being holy and not take lightly the temptations that we face. But as Richard Beck in the quote for today reminds us, the attempt to be holy can become a temptation in itself. It can lead to moral superiority, judgement, exclusion and division, all of which can be dangerous for society's most vulnerable and most in need of support, comfort and mercy. In Matthew Jesus will say to the crowds gathered to listen to him speak, 'be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect.' He will say this right after he has instructed them to love their enemies. This is something the early church took seriously as we read in 1 Peter1, 'But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Jesus has come to add a new dimension to what holiness means.
Monday Study - Leviticus 11; Matthew 5
Monday Prayer - Teach me Lord and empower me to be holy today. holy as you are holy and so holy by forgiving and reconciling. Help me to be holy by listening carefully and caring deeply. Help me to be holy by serving even when it risky and giving even when that is costly. Use my humble attempts at holiness to bear witness to your holiness that all whom I come in contact with today experience the peace that results from your holiness.