I stopped home for a quick sandwich between appointments and found my oldest daughter at the kitchen counter working on a new painting (the girl is multitalented).
I flopped the various sandwich parts onto a paper plate, assembled my lunch and headed for the door, taking a bite as I gathered my things.
“Something like sand gritted between my teeth–from my sandwich!”
“That’s not right.”
No, it’s not.
Mine was layered with ham and cheese and mayo. So why did I just experience that icky sand feeling you sometimes get in clam chowder?
“Must have been the bug legs or a rat’s hair,” she commented, not looking up from her painting.
As if bugs legs and rats hairs are an acceptable sandwich ingredient!
“They’re allowed a certain number of bug legs and rats hairs in food facilities, like where the bread came from. I learned it in Health.”
Let me pause to say, oh thank you community college health professor! This trimester alone I’ve learned that most of our orange juice comes from Brazil where they use all sorts of crazy pesticides and that cow’s milk may kill us all. Now, this little tidbit of health trivia is stuck in my teeth!
“Well, I have heard that we each swallow something like ten spiders a year, so that makes sense. But rat hair? I might just throw up a little.”
Here’s the sick part of the story.
I kept on eating. I headed out the door with my bug-leg-rat-hair-ham-and-cheese-on-wheat and took my chances.
But, of course, I had to digest the factoid and I wondered:
Who determines just how many bug legs and rat hairs are acceptable? I mean what is too many in this situation? Two, ten, thirty per loaf of bread?
And, further, who decided this was okay? Did they have some sort of industry consortium where they discussed this very subject?
Is the government involved? Who are the “they” that set the predetermined amount of acceptable insect and rodent body parts in food?
And then I thought about holiness.
God’s holiness and perfection.
And I thought about my flawed idea of “acceptable” holiness and my Creator’s actual standard and the tremendous chasm in between.
And I realized that we’re making rat-hair and bug-leg subjective regulations all over Christianity.
Who are we to categorize sins as acceptable and unacceptable, bad, not-so-bad or really, really awful? Why do we approach the soul-saving gift of Jesus as anything but a free sweepstakes of his grace?
Why do we apportion it out to people as we see fit according to how much we think they need Christ, instead of seeing God’s holiness, our sinfulness and his forgiveness through Christ clearly?
In Numbers 20, we can read about the fledgling nation of Israel, learning to be ruled by a holy God. We’re hard on them, I think, as we point out how quick they were to grumble about no grouse to eat and complain about the leeks and onions that were so plentiful in Egypt. We shake our heads and say, “Did they so quickly forget they were enslaved by Egypt and that God led them out through the parted Red Sea? Silly Israelites!”
But these million or so individuals were crossing a desert. With no water. No real food. No wi-fi or Starbucks in an eighty-mile-radius. Life really sucked out there.
So, as they neared a place called Kadesh, Moses looked at the crowd and saw something like mutiny morph in the expressions of the multitude.
It was there that they grumbled about grapes and grain and pomegranates and wailed, “There is not even water to drink here!”
The presence of the Lord appeared in a dazzling light and instructed Moses to speak to the rock and water would flow.
Moses, for reasons we will never know, walked over to that rock, raised his staff and struck it twice. Water burst forth and the multitude drank from the miraculous well in the oasis of Kadesh.
But this small, insignificant variance from the directive of the Lord determined Moses’ fate: “Because you did not have enough faith to acknowledge my holy power before the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land that I promised to give them.”
There is no categorically hierarchal definition of holy.
You either are holy or your not.
And Moses, like the rest of us, was not.
Later, in the book of Hebrews, a New Testament companion book to the pentateuch, we are presented with the permanent solution to this problem. Because, you see, God is not going to spend eternity deciding how many bug-legs and rat’s hairs should be allowed in our souls — we are hopelessly icky with sin and his standard of holiness has to remain perfect.
Hebrews 7 & 8, in the Message reads:
So now we have a high priest who perfectly fits our needs: completely holy, uncompromised by sin, with authority extending as high as God’s presence in heaven itself.
Heads up! The days are coming when I’ll set up a new plane for dealing with Israel and Judah. I’ll throw out the old plan I set up with their ancestors when I led them by the hand out of Egypt. They didn’t keep their part of the bargain, so I looked away and let it go. This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; this time I’m writing ot the plan in the, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people. They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book call God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven with the slat of their sins forever wiped clean.
Friends, we need that kindly forgiveness. Instead of rationalizing what’s acceptable sin in our own lives, comparing it to the better and worst in others, we need the slate of our hearts forever wiped clean by the only, holy Savior, the standard of perfection, Jesus.
We may have to live in a world tainted and hobbling along in a sinful condition, where debates about same-sex marriage and the point at which a baby is a person, and the innocent are slaughtered in Syria. But we don’t have to live according to the worlds sub-par standardization framework. We are holy as He is (because of Jesus’ sacrifice) — let’s learn from Moses and have faith in God’s holy power, stand on his promises and truth and present a better, no, the best solution to our neighbors.
So what does holiness and forgiveness mean to you? Are you living in the freedom of that kindly forgiveness (and lending it to others) or are you setting up standards of acceptability?
Can we operate in this holy freedom this side of heaven, or is it too difficult?
Do you know that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how bad, his grace and holiness covers you, too? There is no difference to God–he is holy and we are not–all sin is the same. Do you believe that?