S is for Set Apart
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Setting the Scene
In the first and Gospel readings today, both Samson and John are to be consecrated as lifelong Nazirites for God, as outlined by the rules in Numbers 6:2-8. Some interesting things to note from the NABRE commentary:
- Nazirite comes from the Hebrew word nazir, meaning “set apart as sacred, dedicated, vowed.”
- The nazirite vow could be either for a limited period or for life, and those bound by this vow were to abstain from all the products of the grapevine, from cutting or shaving their hair, and from contact with a corpse.
- Like the prophets, Nazirites were regarded as men and women of God (cf. Am 2:11–12).
- Examples of lifelong nazirites were Samson (Jgs 13:4–5, 7; 16:17), Samuel (1 Sm 1:11), and John the Baptist (Lk 1:15).
- At the time of Jesus, the practice of taking the nazirite vow for a limited period seems to have been quite common, even among the early Christians; cf. Acts 18:18; 21:23–24, 26.
Samson, in his consecration as a Nazirite, was consecrated to God from the womb, was set apart as a judge for the tribes of Israel, one of the “leaders who arose in times of great need and led the tribes to victory in one or more battles.”
John, as the one consecrated and sent before the coming Day of the Lord, was filled with the holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, was set apart to “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God…to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Lk 1:16-17).
Each of us, baptized and confirmed in the Catholic tradition, were set apart and claimed for Christ by the sign of the cross, when we were anointed with Chrism and sealed with the gift of the holy Spirit. In many ways, we have been filled with the holy Spirit since being born again to the world.
If this is the case, if we are a people set apart, then for what purpose have we been set apart?
Growing up, I cringed at the idea of sticking out, of being so different that people noticed. It may have been because I was painfully shy, but I think a lot of people can relate to the feeling of safety and comfort when you can just get lost in a crowd, when you can get away with being one of many in a sea of faces. To be noticed can be risky, it can be embarrassing, and often it takes a lot of courage if it means going against the grain.
But of course, in the same way that God was calling the people of Israel to be, this is exactly what God calls us to be: holy (read: set apart), different from the world around us. Jesus makes it pretty clear in Matthew 5:14:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
And so what exactly have you and I been set apart for?
It’s not an easy answer, necessarily.
On the one hand, we know that we have been set apart to become like Christ, to live the Gospel, to proclaim Christ to the world.
On the other hand, each of us has been created uniquely by God. We are all different, we each have been given different sets of gifts, personalities, histories, situations, experiences. And it is really only when we take the time to discern with God, to consult with the “prophets” in our lives, to study Scripture, that we can really understand how God has specifically set each of us apart, in our uniqueness, to bring the Gospel to the world around us.
I used to tell my high school students this all the time, and it is this. Each of us has our own unique set of gifts, our own special story to share with the world. The person next to you cannot share your story. Only you can share your story. If you choose not to play your part, then the world will be incomplete, will forever be missing a part of its story — your part.
And so your challenge is to take the steps to discover your giftedness. Discover how you have been equipped to share Christ with the world. And don’t be afraid to be different, to let your light shine before others.