I don’t think it is by accident that the Bible tells us that God and Jacob wrestled before he was ready to step into the world as God’s man. We all do something of the same, in spiritual fashion, of course, as we journey through life.
My noontime workplace groups have been studying the holy this year, holy as in special places and words. A recent lesson centered on Leviticus 19, a chapter which our Jewish neighbors read on Yom Kippur. I love the way it begins by telling us that we are to be holy because we have a God who is holy. That phrase is repeated at intervals to keep us focused.
But what we discovered as we went through that chapter is that Israel is being shown that holiness is part of the ordinary things in life: harvesting and making clothing, weighing out a purchase and paying a just wage. There are no directives for prayer or sacrifice, except the warning not to eat meat that has been sacrificed more than two days ago. That is a practical health law, it seemed to us!
Even the odder prescriptions to modern ears are common sense ones for a people just about to enter a new land where pagan customs will lure them to do things which might have unwanted consequences. They should well stay away from pagan mediums and practices, such as tattoos in honor of a deity not their god.
As we got the hang of the thinking behind mixtures and mingling, the strange rule not to wear clothing made of two different materials has nothing to do with modern cloth and everything to do with being clear and uncomplicated before God.
The practicality of the chapter centers not on customs from the Iron Age but on love of God and of one’s neighbor, especially the poor, the unfortunate, the resident alien – all categories where we were seen to have a responsibility. Some challenges never change, do they?
There is a joy in struggling to find the meaning behind the words of an ancient text. It is a wrestling with ideas that brings such clarity to what could be seen as old rules that have no value today. Quite the opposite, we discovered. They are still light and life!