speak to the whole assembly of the children of israel and tell them: be holy, for i, the lord, your god, am holy.
In American political discourse -- Can we still call it that?-- the Ten Commandments have become a rallying cry for many and an archaism to others. Unfortunately, the Levite preamble to the Decalogue -- Tell them: be holy -- does not enjoy the same notoriety.
Is that command offensive to both sides? Why do Christians shy away from holy?
Holiness refers to the very nature of God, specifically the substantial love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is love and there is no God who is not Trinity.
Recently there was a mini-controversy -- perhaps only a discussion -- among Catholics about the return of the word consubstantial to the Nicene Creed, which we recite every Sunday. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI believed the expression "one in being with the Father" failed to convey the deeper meaning of the original Greek.
When the new translation appeared, some people grumbled because they didn't understand the word consubstantial; but, of course, they never wondered about "one in being with the Father," perhaps because those words had fewer syllables.
I am personally excited by the word consubstantial because, as I understand it, the relationship of the Father and the Son becomes substantial -- and each becomes a substantial person -- in their freely given, freely received, total, unreserved love for one another. The Father utters Love; the Son incarnates love; the Holy Spirit is Love.
The one who loves – human or divine -- is holy. The human being becomes a substantial person in her committed love to others – be they spouse, children, parents, church, neighbors or God. She has a name with those people: wife, daughter, mother, aunt, neighbor and so forth. (Only God’s name for her remains mysterious, a gift revealed over a lifetime.) Without love she may be an individual but not a full person. To paraphrase the gospel, “Many individuals are called but few are chosen to be persons.”
Love engages the whole person; it is not temporary, passing or founded on one’s emotions. One does not expect to love for a little while and then move on. As Billy Gilman’s mourned, “…if love never lasts forever / tell me what's forever for?”
When the Triune God demands of his chosen people "Be holy for I am holy" we know that, like God we must abandon the arid security of individual identity and dive into the baptismal, belonging water of human relationship.