A New Kind of Holiness
Who are the outsiders in the places you spend time during the week: the people who never get invited to parties, the ones who are always the butt of the joke? Who are the people whose lives are so ‘bad’ that you might not want anything to do with them?
Back in Bible times, a lot of the religious leaders were very aware that the Covenant – God’s Relationship Rescue Plan – was not being kept by many people. There just wasn’t a whole lot of faithfulness to God around, let alone holiness… These leaders became obsessed with trying to stay faithful to the Covenant – and particularly the Law that God had given them through Moses. They were so obsessed with this that they wrote a whole lot of extra laws. And when I say ‘a lot’ I mean like 613 extra ones…
It’s a huge and tragic irony that in the end they completely missed the point of what God was trying to do. They were keeping the Law as well as they could but they didn’t care much for other people. God didn’t like that. After all, it was people and relationships that God was trying to rescue.
Inside or Out? Back in those days everyone knew who was inside or outside the holy group. The Pharisees made sure they were ‘inside’ but there were a whole lot of people left stranded on the outside. Enter Jesus, the Holy One, God in the flesh, full of righteousness and grace.
Guess which group he wanted to hang out with?
Check out the story Mark tells in Mark 2v13-17. In those days a ‘sinner’ was someone who was considered an outsider because of their failure to observe the Law in the microscopic detail the Pharisees wanted. They were outsiders To go to someone’s house and share a meal with them was an intimate and trusting thing to do. You fully associated yourself with the person whose meals you ate. While he was at the tax collectors house Jesus invited other ’sinful’ people to join them. While the religious leaders watched in speechless horror, Jesus enjoys the party – eating and drinking with every kind of dirty, ‘sinful’ person he could find… Spend a few moments entering the scene at the party in your imagination:
- What can you imagine Jesus is thinking and feeling as he hangs out with these people?
- Imagine you are Levi – a tax-collector despised by just about everybody but now entertaining this famous Rabbi in your own house. What are you feeling?
- What does this story reveal about the kinds of people God cares about? Who, if any, might be excluded from this?
So, what is true holiness? That’s the issue at the heart of this story. The teachers of the Law were obsessed with holiness. It was the only way Israel would ever be redeemed. Jesus was passionate about holiness too—and yet his actions seemed so offensive to those Pharisees … The heart of holiness as Jesus demonstrates it is not about keeping the Covenant Law but about ‘keeping people’. It’s about getting our hearts right and working to be in right relationship with God and people The best way to describe ‘righteousness’ is right-relatedness. We are right with God when our relationships are right – with God, with others, with creation, with ourselves … Jesus’ love for Levi and his friends and his desire to bring them into his kingdom far outweighed any concerns he might have had about being associated with ‘law-breakers’.
In John 1:18 we read this: ‘No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’ If we see Jesus acting like that then we know that’s what God is passionate about too.
Seeing your story in the Story
Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith – that is he begins, shapes and fully maps out everything the Christian life is about. With that in mind, what does Mark’s story show us about what an authentic Jesus-following life looks like? Think back to the outsiders you know about —the people no-one else wants to hang out with or even be associated with. What would it look like for you to do the kinds of things Jesus did with those kinds of people? What would motivate you to even want to try? When Jesus – the God-Man – arrived on the planet he blew a lot of people’s minds about who God was and what God wanted from us. I think Jesus still does that today.