March 3, 2012: The Eleventh Day of Lent
March 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” ~ Matthew 5.8 ~
Christ continues his poetic teaching. This saying looks to be confusing at the outset. What does it mean to be pure in heart? And what does Christ mean when he says that those who are pure in heart will see God? Like before, we need to get into the first-century Hebrew mindset for this to make a bit more sense.
When we hear the phrase, “pure in heart,” we may think of clear motives, honesty, and integrity. It strikes us as a way of living. However, Jews would have thought of a slightly different kind of purity – the kind of purity that results from a touch from God, being ceremonially cleansed. In this way, purity becomes a state of existence. One cannot be pure as a result of one’s own effort. Rather, this kind of purity comes from God alone.
The word used for “heart” also has a slightly larger scope. As Shelton says, “This Hebrew concept of heart is a comprehensive term for the human person as a whole. It is the gyroscopic center of a person, where all thoughts, feelings, and intentions are either balanced or unbalanced.” (LitSNTC, pg. 155)
Can you imagine being pure in heart of your own effort? No matter how we try, we cannot white-knuckle our way into such an existence. Indeed, as we have seen, this teaching seems to place emphasis on those who freely acknowledge that that are emphatically not pure in heart and have no hope of becoming pure under their own power!
Here, we see another step in the progression of spiritual growth and formation of one who enters Christ’s kingdom. Such purity cannot be had by human effort, but in the Kingdom of Heaven, where gentleness, righteousness, and mercy reign, this purity can be given as a gift. Yes, we are broken, flawed beings; but God, in his mercy and love, can sanctify and cleanse us if we allow him. God bestows this kind of purity on those who live in his kingdom.
In the Hebrew mind, seeing God meant death. We can see in many Scripture passages, one seeing an angel experienced intense fear; they feared that they had died, or that their death was imminent. Exodus 33.20 would have been firm in the mind of Christ’s audience: “But he [YHWH] said, ‘You cannot see my face, for no man can see me and live!’ Yet, some people in Israel’s history had experienced God’s glory: Abraham (Gen. 17.1), Moses and the elders of Israel (Ex. 24.10-11), and Isaiah (Isa. 6.1, 5).
As Christians living in the “already-not yet” of God’s kingdom, we interpret this verse to mean that we will stand before God approved in the Day of Judgment; then, we will see his face. This verse also brings to mind something that J.D. Walt, former Dean of the Chapel and current Associate Vice President at Asbury Theological Seminary, would say at the beginning of our worship gatherings. He would stand at the front of the room, lift his arms, and say: “The Spirit of the Living God in me rises up to greet the Spirit of the Living God in you.”
God dwells within his people; we bear his image. As such, we need to realize that we can have an encounter with the Living God whenever we get out and rub shoulders with people! Yet, this has drastic implications for how we view others. We need God to purify our hearts so that we see others properly. Purity of heart comes only from God – let us seek his face.
Lord Christ, in this time of Lent, I acknowledge that I am not pure in heart – far from it. Cleanse me and sanctify me, Lord. Please re-orient my ways of feeling, thinking, and living so that they all come from your purity. Let this purity inform and change how I see you and how I see others, so that I may see you wherever you may be found. Amen.