“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
--Matthew 5:8 NRSV
For the last two weeks in my daily emails, I have been sharing about the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. They form the beginning of what is called The Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 5-7. I believe the best way to interpret these verses is not as an instruction manual from Jesus, but as declarations from Jesus about how the world really works, all appearances to the contrary.
A group of clergy called SALT Project does a nice job of describing this way of understanding the Beatitudes:
Jesus paints an utterly counterintuitive picture of blessedness: looking around the world, then and now, and it’s easy to conclude that the “blessed” are the rich, happy, strong, satisfied, ruthless, deceptive, aggressive, safe, and well-liked — and yet here’s Jesus, saying that despite appearances, the truly “blessed” are actually the poor, mourning, gentle, hungry, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted, and reviled.
It seems easier to me, however, to think of God declaring the poor in spirit or those who mourn are blessed than it is the pure in heart. It feels self-righteous or even hypocritical to declare oneself pure in heart. Which one of us doesn’t have some kind of falsehood, selfishness or double mindedness inside of us?
As Christians we are taught that all of us are sinners who stand in need of the grace of God. With all that we know about psychology today and how our unconscious urges, desires and biases shape our behavior, how can anyone say they are really pure in heart?
For the biblical writers however, purity of heart seemed to be attainable. This Beatitude echoes the 24th Psalm which declares:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4 NRSV)
Purity of heart might be rare, but it was possible, so it must mean something other than perfection or a complete lack of sinful thoughts and actions in one’s life.
For me, this Beatitude is not about getting everything right or being utterly innocent of thoughts and actions that hurt ourselves, others and God. Rather it is about being a person of integrity.
Purity of heart takes concrete form when one chooses to be honest when no one is looking or could ever know if you were dishonest.
Purity of heart takes concrete form when one sticks with the truth of who you are and what you have done in the face of criticism, rejection and even false attacks. A person who has integrity of heart does not need to respond in kind to people who unfairly criticize them behind their backs or undermine friendships or relationships. Purity of heart means not having to lower oneself to the false behaviors of others, because you know your own truth which gives you all the reassurance needed.
In a world with “alternative “facts” and where truth is bendable depending on which cable news channel you are watching, it may not seem like integrity matters. In a world where those in power declare “greed is good” and “winning is everything,” integrity doesn’t seem to offer much reward. Yet Jesus declares that no matter what our culture says, integrity means everything to God. God sees and knows our hearts. God knows when we are being truthful and living with integrity even if nobody else does. The greatest reward of all--greater than getting ahead in office politics, greater than any popularity context, greater than achieving any power in this world--is our integrity allows us to “see God.” to recognize the true reality of love and grace which pervades all of creation.
Psalm 24 declares the pure in heart shall enter the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple, the most sacred spot on earth, and see God face to face. Jesus declares the pure in heart shall see God without any such restriction of location. The person who walks and lives and speaks with integrity can see beyond the lies and deceits of our culture to lay eyes on God’s work of love and justice which is so often obfuscated by human deceitfulness. This reward offers more blessedness than any half-hearted or false-hearted person can ever know.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.