Sunday, 10 February 2013
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
Isa 6:1-8; Lk 5:1-11
If you were to go up to heaven and see God, and then come back down to earth and try to describe to us what God is like, what you had seen: What do you think you would be trying to say?
We heard in our first reading just that, what the prophet Isaiah said he had seen in his vision of God in heaven. And he gives the very same description that we hear in the other place in the Scriptures where someone sees a vision of heaven, namely, in the book of Revelation. In both cases they say that God is 'holy'. They do not say that God is love, though we know from Scripture that this also is true of Him too (1Jn 4:8). And they do not say that He's in an eternal inter-relationship of the Father and Son loving each other in the unity of the Holy Spirit, though this too is true. Rather, they say God is 'holy'. So holy that they say it three times -which in the Hebrew language is their way of saying 'most holy', more holy than anything else in existence. And this prayer is so important, this repeating of the prayer heard said by the angels in heaven, that we repeat it in each and every Mass before starting the most sacred and central prayer of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord, God of Hosts" (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).
So, both Old and New Testament tell us that God is 'holy, holy, holy'. But, unless we know what 'holy' means this in fact tells us nothing. Unless we know what it means we can't know why it's important, what it tells us about ourselves. Linguistically, from its Hebrew origins, the word 'holy' means that something is 'separate'. It means, with respect to God, that He is separate from us, different from us. So different from us that to see Him results in those who see Him saying, not what He is like, but what He is NOT like:
He is not like us, He is different, He is 'holy' separate.
This sense of God being so wholly and utterly different to us causes two effects in people:
First, it causes a sense of fear and uneasiness and unworthiness Thus Isaiah burst out, "woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips..." (Isa 6:5). Similarly, in the gospel text of today, when Peter saw Jesus's divine miraculous power at work he said, "Depart from me for am a sinful man"(Lk 5:8).
Second, even with this, it fascinates and attracts man.
The entire life of the Chosen People of the Old Testament can be described as a calling to make them holy. God, who called and chose them, revealed Himself to be utterly different, utterly awesome, utterly separate, utterly ‘holy’. And He called a people to Himself to be holy, to be separate from the nations, different from the nations. Different by being given a Law and set of customs that made them separate. "You shall be holy for I The Lord your God am holy"(Lev 19:2).
BUT the root of their being separate, their being holy, was not so much their distance from the rest of the world, but their being in CONTACT with the Lord God. He is holy, and contact with Him makes you holy too.
In the New Testament the new Chosen People, those who are called to be one with Christ, we become holy by our union with Him, "He chose us that we should be holy"(Eph 1:4).
Now, what does this mean to us? What difference does this make to us?
On one hand it should point out to us the wonderful gift of our calling. God is utterly different and awesome and wonderful, and yet we are called to share in His divine life. And the glory of heaven will be so wondrous that if we saw it now we couldn't even describe it, all we would be able to do is say, like St Paul, that "eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love Him"(1 Cor 2:9).
On the other hand, it should also point out to us that we must be different to the rest of the world. We must live with our eyes set upon the next world, "you must look to the things of heaven"(Col 3:2). We must also NOT look to the things of this earth, nor to the ways and values of the people of this earth. We must be willing to be holy, to be separate from this world and its ways. As we all know, the vote in Parliament this week on same-sex marriage will further marginalise us Catholics in this country, and we must be willing to be marginalised if we would stand with Christ, if we would be holy with God.
God is holy, He is different, He is separate. He calls us to be different, and separate, and holy too.
If we are, are shall enjoy the delights, the differentness, the awesomeness, the holiness of heaven.