I remember an ongoing debate among students when I was attending seminary. Many felt strongly that they should not be expected to live any differently than members of their churches. Others felt strongly that as pastors they were set apart to show others how to live the Christian life. But would that be realistic? Can anyone truly set oneself apart from others to be an example of holiness?
Today’s readings begin with the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. Their deaths are not unlike the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. The community of believers exists for God and not vice versa. Certainly, God had the people’s attention! Israel must be totally consecrated to God. Intentions, no matter how earnest and goodwilled they are, cannot be a substitue for a heart and a life focused on the will of God.
So, we begin a long list of what to eat and what not to eat. God has chosen Israel to be a holy people called for a holy purpose. There are clean and unclean foods. Why must it be this way? Because you are set apart. You live differently. Every aspect of life must express your devotion to God because of who God is and what God has done. The New Testament will enlarge our understanding of what is clean and unclean. Paul will write: Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do (1 Corinthians 8:8). So I guess that settles it. We don’t have to live any differently than others!
But then Paul says, So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Aren’t we in a relationship with God? We honor that relationship – we are faithful to that relationship – when we live in such a way that the relationship is reflected in every aspect of life. We are not in a relationship one moment and out of the relationship another moment. Holiness – or the lack of holiness – is expressed in every aspect of my life. Look to Silas and Paul (Acts 16). Even after being severely beaten, their feet chained to a prison cell, they would pray and sing hymns to God and other prisoners were listening to them. How I live matters.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:21)