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Speaking to the Soul: Holier Than Thou

Speaking to the Soul: Holier Than Thou

Week of Proper 7, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) // 89:19-52 (evening)

Numbers 16:1-19

Romans 3:21-31

Matthew 19:13-22

Are some people holier than others? In our Biblical texts, sometimes one subset of people is singled out for special holiness, such as members of the various priesthood lineages (Aaronic, Levitical, or Zadokite). At other times, the whole assembly of God’s people seems to be holy, as when God says to Moses in Leviticus 19:2, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Our first reading this morning includes a story about a conflict between these two traditions of holiness. The way the story is presented, the special privileges of Moses and Aaron will be affirmed. But in today’s short excerpt, we don’t yet see the outcome. I actually find myself rooting for the rebels who insist that God’s holiness dwells with the whole congregation!

A man named Korah, along with two hundred and fifty followers, confronts Moses and Aaron, telling them, “You have gone too far! All the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. So why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Korah and his companions draw on the tradition that their whole congregation is holy, every single one of them, and that there is no place for one or two people to exalt themselves as holier than others.

At the end of today’s reading, a contest is underway. Moses has asked each of this two hundred and fifty opponents to bring a censer and burn incense at the entrance to the tent of meeting, along with Moses and Aaron. Whose offering of incense will be more pleasing to God? Today, perhaps we can sit with this open-ended passage that leaves so much hanging in the air, like a cloud of incense from more than two hundred and fifty censers. It’s a picture of a community in which no one is holier than thou, but in which holiness is shared and hovers over the whole congregation. Let’s take a moment to breathe this air before it dissipates, all too soon. For now, “All the congregation are holy, every one of them.” And God is among us.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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Thom Forde

I’m wondering how productive it is to ruminate over something Holy Scripture is not saying? As Ms. Walsh acknowledges that God will affirm Moses and Aaron, I will acknowledge that the snapshot taken at verse 19 implies that holiness is shared. But that is not the ultimate reality, is it? Perhaps the message is that we need to pay attention to the minority standing with God, rather than the majority who, despite their unity, is wrong?

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