Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. – Hebrews 12:14-17
This is the last water passage in Hebrews. It is one of those passages that I read and to be honest I am not so inspired or excited. Sort of like coming to a stretch of river with quiet water and a headwind. I will push on paddling with the expectation and hope of more interesting water ahead.
It begins with a very sensible command to live in peace with everyone. If everyone agreed to do this the world would be a different place. Then comes a bit of an unexpected riffle in this otherwise quiet water – we are to be holy for “without holiness no one will see the Lord.”. Apparently there is something about striving for holiness that gives us cave dwellers sight. Interestingly, the last passage I reflected on in Hebrews was about seeing Him who is invisible.
Holiness is a tricky concept, mainly because I think it has been incorrectly used and abused by some people. It conjures images for me of religious practices and traditions that are intended to represent holiness. We are all flawed followers in need of grace no matter how “holy” we are. The pope just as much as a pauper living in a tent along a freeway. We are called to a radical love for God and one another, regardless of salvation state or station.
So what are we to make of this ability of holiness to act as spiritual spectacles that enable us to see an invisible God? As I have chewed on this the only thing I can think of is that holiness is more of a posture than a practice. It is our position relative to God’s outstretched hand rather than a set of practices that make us holy. We tend to focus on the practices to achieve holiness when maybe we should be paying more attention to “body awareness” – both our physical body and our spiritual “body”.
I have been enjoying watching the 2020 Olympic games. One of my favorite events is men’s and women’s gymnastics. This is partially because I was a gymnast from about age five or six years old until college. Watching these athletes perform amazing feats with their bodies brings back many fond memories for me. I grew up in the gym training my body to do everything from handstands to highbar. I discovered that all this practice and training made me better at other sports, even without practicing.
So back to the passage and our call to be holy. Maybe holiness is really about “body awareness”. Knowing clearly where we are in relation to God and others. Maybe this sort of “holiness” only comes about through extensive practice in “God’s gym” – everyday life in community with others.
The passage ends with a reference to Esau and his poor decision to trade his inheritance for a meal. His tears reveal his soul sickness at losing his inheritance. We should be equally sad when we trade true holiness for haughtyness.
Prayer: God help us to be holy by knowing our position relative to You and others.